Ark Royal feels very much like a self published book; the pacing is off, characters thin, info dumps egregious, and action/dialogue scenes unrealistic or over/underwritten. Honestly, this seems like a jingoistic ode to the British military; sort of an answer to all the silly over-the-top American military books and movies (especially Afghanistan or Desert Storm). Most problematic, though, is that author Nuttall is referencing a 1990s Royal Navy rather than a futuristic one and nothing feels sci fi – it’s pretty much modern day warfare in sci fi trappings.
Story: Ark Royal is a space slug – heavily armored and out of date, it exists solely as a place to dump the dregs of the military. But when an alien menace appears and the newer technology human starships are summarily destroyed, it may be the only hope for Earth.
I have to admit, I didn’t enjoy this book (note: I listened to the Audible narration). Ark Royal’s biggest problem was that the vernacular, dialogue, perspective, and characters all felt deeply rooted in 1990s British military service – and as a giant Marty Stu for both older and younger men. We have an aging alcoholic everyman captain (a terrible alcoholic who inexplicably has alcohol in his stateroom so he can bemoan his alcoholism and be tempted) and an aristocratic, young, ambitious second in command. Their names are Smith and Fitzwilliam respectively – just so you remember who is the everyman and who is the aristocrat. Then there’s the fighter squadron commander – a salary man reservist with a failing marriage and annoying kids and who finds himself called back to the military. It’s a triumvirate of Marty Stus.
As mentioned, the thoroughly contemporary feeling characters and plot was a frustration. Especially the women, who are uniformly annoying or overemotional. Our salaryman fighter commander, Kurt, has a great son – but his wife is cold and his teen daughter a rebellious and screechy wreck. The poor guy comes home every day to mother and daughter drama – no wonder he’s happy to ship out. On the ship, he has a young fighter pilot female under him – and when she’s not having crying fits about her dead boyfriend, she’s dropping her clothes to seduce her commander. Who, we are reminded a LOT, is old enough to be her father. Yes, it’s another Marty Stu situation and clearly no middle aged married man would be able to refuse a 20 year old throwing herself at him. So pick your Marty Stu flavor – the captain who rises out of obscurity to save the planet, the ambitious lieutenant there at his side and basking in the glory, or the fighter squadron commander ‘grapplig’ with his affair with a nubile 20 year old.
Although set in a future where men and women fight alongside each other, most of the story of the women is about their breasts temping men or how they are nothing more than emotional wrecks. Apparently, working side by side for several hundred years isn’t enough to take the macho out of the navy and men will always be chauvinistic and unable to work side by side with women. It got old fast and was borderline misogynistic. I kept wondering if the aliens should win if humanity was still so unevolved. The women and men’s relationships with them (working or otherwise) was very one-dimensional.
But those issues aside, the main problem for me wass that the action scenes and plotting were very poorly written. I felt as if the book had a random fast forward button and whole sequences would be glossed over or abruptly forgotten so that I missed the whole impact of the situation. E.g., the momentous first boarding of a captured alien ship lasts about 2-3 pages and involves a guy walking down a corridor. Then suddenly the captain is talking to the second in command about the captured ship and how it will affect their future. The same occurred with all the action sequences – they happened in 1-2 pages and then we’re back to walking in corridors and discussing the next actions to be taken. I felt like I had somehow missed whole chunks of the book – the good parts.
The narration of the book was lackluster; it wasn’t terrible but it certainly didn’t elevate the book above the odd writing, either.