Contract of Defiance by Tammy Salyer

This book is highly reviewed but I am going to have to say with reluctance but honesty that I did not like this book. Unlikeable cardboard characters, unbelievable science in the fiction, and odd logic holes mark this as too much as a flawed indie fanfic attempt at a book rather than a diamond in the rough.

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Story: Aly is a kick butt female mercenary working with her brother when a job goes wrong. He is captured by the authorities and she ends up in an easy partnership with an odd smuggling crew. When faced with betrayals all around, all she can do is curse and kill – a lot – to try to get her brother back.

The thing about science fiction is that it’s an imaginary world – you can pretty much put anything into the story and then shrug it off as “that’s the future” rather than have to defend it. But that doesn’t necessarily mean you should; e.g., killer purple alien bunnymen using psychic powers to make people urinate a lot may not make a great or relatable story.  What Salyer has done is create a world where she can have a tough as nails female character but then neglected to really establish the world in any believable way. She transported a modern military woman to the future, gave the character simplistic fabricated situations so she can prove she’s tough, and then completely avoided actually creating the science in the fiction. The milieu is as hollow as the main character. The nitpicking below could be shrugged off as “hey, it’s my universe, I can do what I want with it.” but that doesn’t necessarily mean she should.

And therein lies the problem for me – everything is so manufactured or forced just to create plot points or prove a point. It’s both underwritten and overwritten at the same time. The outline for the story is this: kick butt heroine, give her lots of baddies to kill, let her mouth off a lot to prove she’s bad (even though she’s in a dangerous situation and that should make it worse but doesn’t), have all characters instantly fall in love with her or want to be her friend because she’s so tough, and give her something to do so she can maim or kill everything in sight (we have to prove she’s tough!).

Problematic for me (and should be for any who have read a lot of sci fi), are the physics/believability/rationality of the world. Would a girl born in space: a) refer to distances in miles? (We wouldn’t measure how far we have flown from an airport in centimeters, right?); use 2014 style projectile weapon guns in a space station or space ship where instant decompression would occur); have guns that still need to be oiled and that put out a lot of smoke (smoke on a space station = death); use terms like “felt like diesel engine oil” or “piss on the walls to mark your territory” (are there really diesel engines (which put out a LOT of carbon dioxide and would kill everyone in an enclosed space) in space AND do a lot of wild animals roam space ship corridors marking their territory??). Let’s not get into things like saying to one’s self that they are listening to a “Mid 21st century band called The Clash” (Does anyone really think, “I think I’ll go listen to a mid 17th century song by a bandleader called Beethoven?”). Plot issues include constantly being told that she’s able to survive deserting the Admin army because their database was destroyed – yet she meets a character and he looks her up and gives her her military history in two minutes flat. There just wasn’t any attempt to build imaginative future into the future – it’s all 20th century talk, lingo, tech.

Really problematic for me is that this just wasn’t fun to read. I could probably get around nitpicking the anachronisms if this was exciting or I really liked/respected the main character. Firefly the TV series is a good example of making anachronisms work in a thoroughly conceived world. But this story wants to be Firefly so hard, it’s difficult not to consider it more of a rip off than an homage. Friendly captain, trustworthy but serious co captain, quirky hippy pilot, mysterious young doctor with hidden motivations and a history of human experimentation…..does this ring a bell with anyone? I should pop out my DVD of Serenity and see how many parallels I can make.

The character of Aly felt far too much like a Mary Sue fanfic. Create a bad a$$ character and put her in the Firefly world. Everyone loves her – and even if they don’t in the beginning, they start to soon after as they suddenly recognize her value (in a firefight). For no particular reason I can fathom since she is rude, has tried to kill several (who smile it off later (!)), is mouthy, uncooperative, and clearly selfish. All Aly’s actions are trying too hard to show either that she is a tough girl or that she cares about her brother – and so none of her actions seem realistic or natural (e.g., yelling and demanding to be returned to a space station after she is saved and nursed back to health is a bit much).

About 50% in, when all characters are fawning over her and situation after situation is created to show she is tough and not to develop character to further the plot, I realized the depth of the mary sue here. The only thing missing was a romance with a Nathan Fillion type character (I guess he’ll come in future volumes).

So – the book has a lot of 5 star reviews and I seem to be a lone dissenter. So take what I’ve written in that perspective – you may like this a whole lot better than I did. There is a lot of action and Aly definitely gets to show she can kill and maim with the best of ’em.

Reviewed from an e-copy provided by the publisher.

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