First off, let me apologize for this review being so tardy – remodeling our house has been somewhat of a challenge, and life goes on unabated regardless of what we have planned, so writing/editing/posting this has repeatedly slid off my priority list. That is not an excuse, merely an explanation, and an apology to boot.
Moving on, I will be honest with you – this review probably will not be as detailed, comprehensive, or skilled as the reviews of other people who have read Oren’s War, but I will try to do better than “I did/did not like it.”
Maybe not much better, but better – something along the lines of, “I really wanted to like it, but by the end, I could not,” and all snark aside, that is, unfortunately, my short-and-sweet review of the book. If you want, you can continue reading on to the specifics, though.
While people say you should not judge a book by its cover, we are going to go ahead and start with the physical aspects of Oren’s War. The cover features a large oak tree portrayed over a background of the American flag, which makes sense – that tree in question provides an occasional resting spot for the main character, a hiding spot later in the story, and a convenient deus ex machina moment right at the end (unfortunately, it is that word, “convenient”, that probably wore on me the most throughout the book). The hardcover binding seems solid, and while it might be strange to comment on, I really liked the paper used for this printing – unlike the vast majority of paperbacks and hardbacks printed today, it was not at all pulpy, had more than a little magazine-like shine, was thick enough to not concern me with tearing it, and held on to its ink well (I tend to read with a thumb in the bottom of the crease, and on some books, the ink can annoyingly smudge). I am sure there is a technical explanation for it, as well as an appropriate name, but reading books is, by very nature, a tactile experience, and my fingers frankly appreciated the quality of the paper in question. Of course, in talking with the author, Stephen Merlo, he indicated that this printing was outsourced to China – something he did not want – so I am not sure if the quality will be retained for future incarnations.
And, apparently thanks to that outsourcing, there were layout and editing problems – misspellings were infrequent but present, and pages 242 and 243 were flipped (the latter was printed on the former, and the former was printed on the latter), which caused me some confusion while reading through them. It was not the end of the world, and I have encountered similar problems in other books, but it is worth noting.
On to the characters… Well, really, to almost a man, all of the characters were simply too much. The criminals were too much of scumbags (And cartoonish scumbags at that, periodically – one even laughed, “Har-de-har-har.” I know some people really do laugh like that, but it felt like I was reading the script for the ’60s Batman.), the good guys were perfect in everything they did (shooting, rationalizing, coping, surviving, convincing others of their goodnes/rightness, etc.), and the bad guys were scant more than mobile cardboard cut-outs, embodying the most-extreme stereotypes of anti-rights advocates out there, and probably having a convenient IDPA target printed on them to boot.
Oh, and the bad guys were named “Enforcers”. And they wore specifically-named “jackboots”. And they worked for the “NWO”. I might have missed it reading through, and flipping back through to make sure, but I do not recall seeing the acronym “NWO” explained… which leaves me assuming it refers to the conspiracy-theory-esque “New World Order”. Really? Maybe I come from the wrong generation, but any of those concepts, by themselves are bad enough, but when combined together to build the gestalt of a character, the term “trite” does not quite cover it.
Understand that I grew up reading about “perfect” characters on both sides of the philosophical divide – Heinlein is full of them, Stephenson dabbles in them, Herbert’s were messianic, Hubbard’s were just plain whacky, Asprin made a living putting dunce caps on them, and so forth. But there are right… or at least more-right ways of approaching them, and then there are ways that do not really make one reach for the “I believe” button, but do leave one, at the end of the story, going, “Well, things went well for them.” For example, Oren did not really make any significant, overwhelming mistakes until the end of the story, when a loose end had to be tended to – aside from a scant few misses, and a would-be escaped target, everything he did was spot on. When it came to sniping government agents – living, breathing human beings – from afar, he had his qualms and reservations, as any adult, rational, mature human being would… and promptly cast those reservations aside after a dream-sequence inspiration leaving him thinking he was on a more-or-less holy mission. Uhm. Right. If there was ever a surefire way to turn me off on your novel, it is making your protagonist sound like a fanatic zealot.
Likewise, Oren was apparently such an outstanding and influential orator that a 30-second conversation was all he needed to convince a life-long hoplophobe that her fear of firearms was unnecessary, irrational, and erroneous… oh, and that she secretly loved Oren, even though she did not know it. *blink* Well, if that were the case, why not just set him up with a megaphone and a radio station and end this minor civil war before it even starts?
Which, I guess, brings us to the story. The novel opens with handguns already being banned and confiscated a few years back… apparently after D.C. v. Heller ruled that such bans would be unconstitutional. Ok, wierd, but Mr. Merlo mentioned to me that he started writing this book some number of years back, which could explain it. The ban was enforced by the appropriately-named Enforcers, who turn out to be some manner of extragovernmental entity with no real oversight, unlimited power, and unlimited abilities, and they manage to kill off a few hundred Americans while executing the ban… and nothing significant happens to them. No inquest, no criminal charges, no reprimands, no overwhelming citizen backlash… at least not that is mentioned in the story.
Then, in the incident that set off the mini-civil war, the Congress votes to ban and confiscate all firearms, with enough supporting members to overrule a Presidential veto. Yeah. Ok. That seems plausible. Congress could not even get its act together to extend the Ban on Guns That Look Evil (otherwise known as the Assault Weapon Ban), and now they have voted to ban and confiscate all firearms everywhere? Hm.
Once the Enforcers head out to do their thing, Oren successfully ignites a nation-spanning, D.C.-burning civil war by sniping the noggins of three Enforcer officers and a few radio weenies, which he manages to do with hardly any interference at all – the Enforcer organization is portrayed as something of a juggernaut, with all of the weapons and tools it needs available to it, and yet they did not do a slightly-more-conventional version of “Nuke The Site From Orbit” once their brass start getting splattered? Kind of subverts the image of the organization.
And as to that civil war, of course, the news of Oren’s killing of his local Enforcer officer gets out – that, I understand. But given that hundreds of American citizens have died already due to Enforcer actions, and given that those Enforcers have been on the receiving end of more than a few annoyed-and-armed Americans, I am just not buying how the death of one, or even five, Enforcers at the hands of a skilled marksman constitutes sufficient cause for the organization to go frantic-stupid, and the American people to overrun their country once again. I know I am engaging in a fallacy for judging a work of fiction off what I have observed of reality, but given that this is supposed to be a portrayal of one possible future, given current events, it is somewhat natural. Yes, a fight was, indeed, brewing… but it would have boiled over either at the pistol ban-and-confiscation, or hardly at all. People were already dying, the Enforcers were already overstepping their non-existent bounds, and rights were already being infringed – why wait for longarms to be the stumbling block?
And apparently that civil war went well enough that after a couple of weeks, the American public was marching on D.C., and leaving politicians cowering in a theater, facing the potential of righteous retribution. Of course, a coincidentally-sympathetic President (who somehow got elected in the face of an overwhelming majority of Congresscritters of opposite mindsets) did not call out the National Guard or any other military force, and unofficially supported the goals and desires of those doing the marching (not that I blame him on the latter part). Convenient, huh?
I understand the story was intended to be a didactic allegory of how things could go if the government decided that it ruled by nature of its existence, rather than by the acceptance of the people, but throughout the entire book, the phrase, “Well, that is certainly convenient,” kept flashing through my head. Things just worked out, the few hurdles that were encountered were almost immediately overcome, and the entire book read like the events were scripted – which, of course, they were, but the trick is hiding that fact. The revolution/civil war/reclamation of our rights was too quick, too clean, and too simple, with the end result being just a little too perfect… the entire book basically read like a pipe-dream – a pipe-dream of someone similar-minded, of someone who values individual rights, and of someone who wishes America could go back to the way it was intended, but a pipe-dream nonetheless.
To be fair, as always, this post is nothing more than a collection of my opinions, and your mileage undoubtedly will vary. Additionally, this is the first book of this nature that I have read – Patriots and Unintended Consequences are both on my to-read list (assuming I can find a copy of the latter), and it simply could be that all books of this genre fall into that same pattern. But, if that really is the case, I am not likely to crack the covers of too many more…
It is coincidental that I just finished my viewing of Jericho, in that the two stories share some similarities, but the television series is able to achieve what Oren’s War did not, at least for me – believability. Oh, sure, various aspects of the series were an unquestionable stretch, but when it came down to the nitty-gritty life of a post-nuclear-terrorism world, it was so immersive that accepting it as a possible reality was hardly a stretch at all… not to mention I, personally, found Stanley Richmond’s dealing with his semi-righteous killing to be a fair bit more believable than Oren’s.
In the end, these days, I read first to be entertained, and second to be educated. Oren’s War passed the time, but it never successfully engaged me to the point that I honestly cared about the progression of the story (especially since one could see the ending coming from the first 25-or-so pages), or about the life and times of the characters involved. As much as that .280 Beanfield rifle was naught but a tool in Oren’s hands, so too are the characters nothing more than the cutouts of a shadowplay, moving at their controller’s behest. Of course, as mentioned before, all fiction could be described as that, but, again, the trick is hiding that fact from the audience, and making them think they are viewing realistic, coincidental, free-flowing events, rather than a scheduled set of appointments. Again, you might enjoy the book, but I am sorry to say that I will not likely re-read it in the future.
Now, I have no desire to mulct Mr. Merlo – this book was sent to me with the arrangement that I could write whatever review I wanted concerning it, and so I did. However, in light of this less-than-positive write-up, if he wants his copy back, I will be more than happy to drop it in the mail to him – as with most hardbacks I read, I took off the dustcover, so it is in more-or-less pristine condition. If, however, he does not want it back, I am more than happy to forward it on to any other interested parties – some kind of payment for the postage would be appreciated, but if anyone else wants to take a crack at this book, they are quite welcome to it. However, should push come to shove, I would have to recommend against the $20 price of admission for Oren’s War, unless you simply have nothing else left to read.