Kingdom of The Seven

Sister Barbara was awash in the spill of bright white and blue spotlights that shone down from a trio of scaffolding towers. Her pearly white sequined dress seemed to both absorb and reflect light, casting her as one with it. She cut a tall, graceful, and elegant figure striding across the stage, high heels clacking between the bolts of thunder. Behind her, seated in a semicircular erection of bleachers, a blue-clad choir a hundred strong followed her every move. She was wearing a wireless microphone that hung down unseen from her left ear. She came to the very edge of the stage and lowered her voice into it.

That sense of scenes not fully realized... That feeling that just the right word was eluding the author... That insanely stupid plot... Yes, the reader realized, he was about to review another Blaine McCracken novel by Jon Land.

Land, as we recall, is the action/adventure author who in his last book, Day of the Delphi, had M16 rifles fire 7.62mm ammo, hid M1 Abrams tanks in deserted parking garages in downtown Washington DC, and got confused by the difference between a 'city' and a 'country.' We'll find that he hasn't improved much.

This gobbler is called Kingdom of The Seven, and is dedicated to the book's publisher, Tom Doherty, "who believed." Believed he could make a couple of bucks, I expect.

After the dedication we find a page and a half of fulsome acknowledgements to many people -- Tom for publishing the book, Natalia Aponte for editing it, Toni Mendez (Jon's agent) for selling it . . . the list goes on. Ann Maurer, whose job isn't specified, is thanked for "refusing to accept anything even remotely approaching mediocrity." From this one gathers that Ann is an editor at some other publishing house.

Mostly, though, I want to mention Jon's thanks to the "numerous people who keep [his] technology on the straight and narrow." These include Emery Pineo, the smartest man Jon knows, who we are told was a finalist for the Presidential Award for Science Teacher of the Year. Too bad Mr. Pineo didn't straighten Jon out when the heroine mixed water with household drain cleaner to produce "an acid compound." Drain cleaner, of course, is sodium hydroxide (NaOH), which is a strong base. "Solution" might have been a better word than "compound," too, but that's nitpicking.

The next in the series of acknowledgements is Walt Mattison, thanked for "his expertise in weaponry and armaments." Hey, Walt, come up here and take a bow. Next time you're chatting with Jon, tell him that the muzzle is that little hole at the end of the barrel where the bullets come out, okay? He got confused again, when he had the heroine firing a nine millimeter "until the muzzle locked open, the clip exhausted." The part that locked open, of course, was the slide. (Update: A helpful correspondent notes that the thing that was "exhausted" was probably the magazine, not the clip, since very, very few pistols (and certainly no modern nine-mike-mikes) are clip-fed.)

I wanted to call this yet another book in which no one says anything. But that wouldn't be true. Right there on page 204: "'I think we should talk,' said Blaine McCracken."

Still, very few people say anything. Most of the dialog is entirely unattributed. Other than that, a wide variety of verbs substitute for said:

"Hey," Ratansky uttered...
"Go get the f*cks, boss," Belamo huffed...
"Thing you should do," T. J. Fields advised...
Rasped ... greeted ... muttered ... corrected ... blared ... you get the idea. But some of the 'said' words are totally bizarre:
"The subway!" McCracken realized, back on his feet fast.
"It will," he followed, and produced a strip of what looked like gray tape wrapped in cellophane from within his jacket pocket.
"But where to start?" Jacob raised despondently.

The not-quite-right word problem that we saw in the opening quote, where the choir was seated on a semi-circular erection, stays with us all the way. We read about "a tall, bearded man hurrying toward her with a large rifle shouldered behind him and a smaller one in hand." The word Jon wanted was 'slung,' not 'shouldered.'

I'd wonder if Land is a native speaker of English, except his grasp of English cliché seems to be quite fluent:

Toward this end, McCracken put in a call to an antsy Sal Belamo, who was champing at the bit to get back into action.

Parts are unintentionally funny. For example:

"I would hope that you can provide an end to the problems confronting us," said a rail-thin, pale man with a thin moustache named Arthur Burgeuron.
That led me to wonder if the rail-thin man named his goatee as well. Did he have a name for his sideburns? I knew a man with a wooden leg named Smith....

But enough of that. We know that Jon's grasp of English right down at the verbs-and-nouns level is shaky at best, and we know that his grasp of weapons, science, and technology, is no better. How's his plot?

I used, up in my first couple of paragraphs, the words "insanely stupid," right?

I'm not going to follow the twists and turns as they went -- they mostly consist of Blaine McCracken going somewhere and getting shot at by a hundred guys who all miss while he shoots, burns, and blows up the lot of them. Then he goes somewhere else and repeats the process. Instead, I'll sketch in what you'd otherwise have to wade through more than four hundred pages of barely literate prose to learn:

The evil bad guys are a group of right-wing Christian fundamentalists who plan to take over the world by giving everyone AIDS. Only the selected survivors, members of the bad guys' cult, will remain in an underground city constructed in an abandoned salt mine in Texas. Here's how they're going to do this dastardly deed: they own a pharmaceutical company. They're going to tell everyone that they've developed a vaccine for AIDS. Only, naaah ha ha, it really gives people AIDS. Everyone in the world will rush to get inoculated, only learning when it's too late that they've been hoaxed. (Let's see -- how long did it take to inoculate everyone against smallpox? Two centuries?)

The bad guys own a major pharamaceutical company. This company owns another, smaller company. That smaller company, working independently, has just for-real developed an effective AIDS vaccine. That will crimp the bad guys' plans! So what do they do? Recall that they own the place, and all the people on the team which developed the vaccine are on their payroll. Do they just refuse to fund the project further? Do they take it out of the team's hands and bury it? No! They send some bad guys to machinegun the entire lab team. However, remarkably, they miss the team leader, a beautiful young lady. She escapes, with all the backup disks.

So what does she do? Does she call the local office of the FBI and say, "Hey, guys, have I got a story for you"? Does she call the FDA and say "Hey, guys, have I got a story for you"? Does she walk in the door at the San Francisco Chronicle, walk up to the dude on the AIDS desk and say, "Hey, guy, have I got a story for you"? No! Realizing that the only way the bad guys can win is if this story never comes out, she keeps quiet about it! Anyone else would be spamming the internet with laboratory instructions on how to make an effective AIDS vaccine, but not her! She's sneaking around having shootouts with private security forces late at night! And that's when she runs into Blaine McCracken. She and Blaine are perfectly suited for each other: their IQs add up to 100.

Anyway McCracken destroys the bad guys in a pitched battle at the Alamo, a battle from which legitimate law-enforcement forces are strangely absent. And that's the end of the story.

We're promised another Blaine McCracken book, though -- at the end of this tome there's an exciting preview from the next Blaine McCracken novel, with a note saying that if you send your name and address to Jon Land, care of Tor Books, he'll send you a longer, personalized preview. I know I can hardly wait.

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