Book Review: Sixteenth Watch by Myke Cole
I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating: 3.5 of 5 stars
Genre: Science Fiction
Series: Book 1/Stand Alone
Publisher: Angry Robot (March 10, 2020)
Length: 317 pages
Sixteenth Watch was my first book by Myke Cole since Control Point, and it’s clear his storytelling and writing skills have come a long way since. Still, I had some mixed feelings for this one for reasons more to do with unfulfilled expectations, but other than that, I thought the book was an entertaining tale of militaristic action in space, a slightly different take on your usual mil sci-fi.
The novel opens with a stunner. As a violent skirmish suddenly breaks out between the Americans and Chinese in lunar space, nearly sparking an all-out war between the two nations, Captain Jane Oliver of the U.S. Coast Guard watches in horror as her husband’s ship is torn to pieces. Months later, having come to terms with his death and her grief, Oliver knows she is approaching the end of her career because of her age, and quite frankly is looking forward to retiring in peace. However, her superiors have different plans for her. As the tensions between the US and China continue to mount over Helium-3 mining rights on the moon, the Navy and the Marines are trying to edge the Coast Guard out of the military operations on the border between the two territories. In order to convince the politicians and the public to take them seriously, the Guard wants Jane Oliver to head up an initiative to train a group of officers to win a popular reality competition show called Boarding Action against teams from the other branches of the military. In return, Oliver would be promoted and be allowed to retire on the moon to be with her daughter.
As such, the bulk of the book is focused on this training, as well as dealing with the resulting pushback from their rivals. With dismay, Oliver realizes that low morale and confidence among her team are also causing much of their performance issues. Simply running practice drills will not help in this case, she realizes, and to really get them to push themselves, she’ll need to take some pretty big steps—and big risks.
It’s a fantastic premise, to be sure. That said, I’m just not sure how well it worked in its execution. With such a playing up of the Boarding Action show, as well as the rivalry between the Coast Guard and the other competitors, not to mention all the attention and page-time dedicated to their training, you would think we’d be getting more follow through on that front. But in fact, the plot doesn’t really steer us in that direction at all, and the lack of story consistency and coherence this resulted in annoyed me a little, if I’m to be honest. And while we’re on the topic, I was also not entirely sold on the ending. It certainly didn’t feel like it followed logically from earlier events, and on top of that, it didn’t provide satisfactory closure—and I don’t mean that in the cliffhanger sense, but rather in a way that’s more like a thought left unfinished.
As I said though, I still thought Sixteenth Watch was a good read, and it was the little things I liked, such as the fact that Myke Cole’s background and experiences in the military is evident in the knowledge he brings to his work. An officer in the US Coast Guard Reserve, the author shows his love for the USCG by portraying them and their operations with a high degree of authenticity and accuracy. I also liked the character of Jane Oliver, for not only is it uncommon to see a female middle-aged protagonist head up a military sci-fi novel, she was also written to be believable and relatable. Then, there was the action. All those training maneuvers and battle sequences went a long way in making up for the stalling and meandering in the plot, keeping my interest high even as the pacing sometimes floundered.
Still, for the most part, the pros outweighed the cons. Readers should not expect too much in terms of depth, though I suspect this won’t be a dealbreaker for the majority, given the main goal of the novel to provide action-driven entertainment. With the storytelling and world-building being on the lighter side, the characters were the ones that truly stood out, like Oliver, her executive officer Wen Ho, and the members of the Coast Guard team. In the end, those strengths were enough to keep me turning the pages. While not perfect, Sixteenth Watch was a fun read which I thought succeeded in what it set out to do.