Reviews of Star Watchman (1964)
Review by djq (2006-06-19)
The synopsis I provided from the back cover is a little misleading in that it probably fits better as a synopsis for the entire series rather than this particular novel. The synopsis tells the background, but the story is really about a young watchman who comes to a planet that has just erupted into a state of war. The war has three sides (or two and a half, depending on how you count) which makes for some truly unique plot elements. At least they are not ones I have before encountered.
The three sides are the empire (and its cadre of Marines and watchmen), the Komani, and the native population of Shinar. The population of Shinar does not want to be ruled by the empire and rebels, requesting aid from the Komani, an alien race of cat-like people that are very warlike. However, it soon becomes apparent that the Komani have their own designs on the planet. It becomes clear that the people of Shinar are not going to enjoy freedom and must choose their masters. Who will they side with and why?
The characters of this novel are vividly drawn and compelling. They all have depth and act consistently within their motives, and it's interesting to see how things develop from the given situation.
However, this is not a great novel. For one thing, it's too short for the situation described and too many dramatic scenes have to be compressed. The 210 page novel needs at least double that and perhaps triple to do the situations presented full justice. Too often, it feels like we are only reading a synopsis. For example, there is a very compelling relationship to be explored between Altai (the only female role in the novel) and the main character, Vorgens, the star watchman. But Bova just scratches the surface.
Also, the ending is forced and rather sudden. It gets settled by an element that has little to do with the issues and themes raised by the situation of the novel itself.
Finally, and perhaps most damning for such an otherwise promising novel, many dramatic situations are not given their full expression. The narration is so compressed that the dramatic impact flashes by before the reader can fully appreciate the stakes. Bova's later work has much better pacing.
The writing style itself is also not ambitious. This is probably because it was wrongly aimed at the teenage market.
Nevertheless, despite its flaws, simply because the situation of the novel is so original and the plot so compelling I would recommend this novel as a very good read for anyone, particularly to writers who are just starting out. This novel will show them: 1) errors to avoid, such as where and how much to compress, and what a promising but unfully realiazed character is, and 2) types of plot possibilities and complications they just won't see elsewhere.