Welcome to book four in the Jumper series by Steven Gould. We pick up a bit after the end of the last book, Impulse, which I reviewed here, with the further adventures of Cent, the teleporting girl, as she tries to break the final frontier, jumping into space.
But as these books have gone on, they’ve started to drift away from their core, a family of jumpers who are being hunted by the evil Daarkon organization, headed by Hyacinth Pope. In fact, this time, Daarkon and Pope don’t really show up until the last 50 pages. Does that affect my enjoyment of the book? Let’s find out as I go looking at Exo.
Cent is no longer in high school but she still misses her friends and after a while, travels to see them secretly. But what she’s also been doing secretly is experimenting with jumping straight up, with the goal of reaching low earth orbit. However, to do that, she needs a spacesuit and so begins a long adventure of recruiting, building and testing an experimental suit that will make her the only one to ever reach space without a spacecraft.
Perhaps my biggest complaint is that Exo is so completely stuffed full of tech-porn, I bet that if you stripped out all of the unnecessary tech talk, you’d cut at least 150 of the book’s 464 pages. In fact, this reminded me a lot of a book I read a long time ago, Star Bright by Martin Caidin, where the majority of the book is two scientists sitting in a room talking about black holes. That book was a third of the length of Exo though. So much of this book came across as an info dump, it was all tell, no show and that is a serious problem.
Plus, and this has happened a couple of times recently, including the book I’m reviewing next week, where I’ve found the teenage protagonist to be entirely unrealistic. Teenage kids just don’t act like this. This is a 35-year old person in a teenage body. I don’t care how many things you throw into her backstory, how much emphasis on education, how much home schooling, she is not going to be an expert in as many things as she is an expert in, period. It’s wholly unrealistic. She is not going to sit down and have in-depth graduate-level discussions with scientists. She is not going to speak some snippets of language for everyone she comes across. That doesn’t mean she has to be an idiot, but come on, there have to be limits. She’s supposed to be the reader’s POV character, the one who the reader is supposed to experience the literary world through and identify with. It’s hard to do that when she’s a know-it-all with aspirations of going to space.
And that’s another thing, I don’t think Gould sufficiently explained her motivations to do anything in this book. Why did she have the drive to get into space? Who knows! She just did and it’s a good thing because the whole plot revolves around her unexplained desire to get into orbit. “It might be cool” isn’t a sufficient justification for spending hundreds of thousands of dollars designing a spacesuit and hundreds of pages explaining how it gets built and tested. I don’t remember her ever being especially interested in space exploration, either in the last book where she was introduced or in this one before she started heading for space.
But this isn’t all negative and, even though it came off as an afterthought, we finally get to see the end of Daarkon and Pope, a plotline that has been going on at least since the second book and had seriously run its course. It would have been better had Gould interwoven that plotline throughout the entire book, rather than just have it clumsily show up at the end. Sure, they are mentioned once or twice, they make some really clumsy attempts to kidnap people at the grandmother’s old folk’s home, but these attempts do not come off as credible, they don’t feel dangerous, they feel pretty laughable. Then, all of a sudden, Daarkon is using drones to blow up the house, they are kidnapping Cent, for what purpose I really don’t know, and then it’s all over, they’re all dead, the end.
And that’s really what turned me off about the whole thing. There needs to be conflict to make a story work, but the first 70% of this book had none. There wasn’t even any serious risk to Cent jumping into space, it never felt like she was in any real danger, she kept saying she could just jump back to the ground any time she wanted. So why should we be concerned about her safety? And even the final bit with Pope wasn’t scary because Pope always underestimates the Rice family. Always. At least that storyline is over, but geez, couldn’t you have done something more suspenseful?
There was way too much Mary Sue at play here, Gould says he based Cent on his two daughters and maybe this was just wish fulfillment, but that’s not how a good science fiction book goes. I have to be interested as a reader. I have to be intrigued by the story. I have to be drawn in by the story and by the characters and I just wasn’t. I’ve heard rumors that there will be another book after this one, hopefully he will have learned his lesson and that will return to the form of the first couple of Jumper novels.