I recently unearthed my copy of SHADOWMIND, which had been Missing In Action for the past seven years or so. The discovery yielded a puzzling result, as there was a bookmark approximately thirty pages from the end of the story, yet I had absolutely no recollection of ever reading any of this. I vaguely wondered what would have caused me to give up on a book when I had managed to get so close to the conclusion. Undaunted, I decided to begin reading again from the beginning. This time would be different. I would fight on until the very end, defeating any leaden prose, clichéd characters, and banal subplots that dared to stand in my way. I would fight this through to the bitter end, to win now where I had been defeated seven years ago. And, after several long days, I succeeded.
Okay, it's not as bad as all that. The beginning is quite good, and despite some problems with the end, there were several resolutions that I enjoyed. But the sections in the middle are so dull, so tedious, so devoid of anything remotely fulfilling that I almost gave up on SHADOWMIND for the second time. Even now, looking back at the events of the past few days, I'm not completely certain how I made it all the way through. Admittedly, there are more than a few blurry spots in my memory, and I just know there are several chapters that jumped ship before they could be transferred from my short-term to my long-term memory. But, somehow, I got to the end. Whew.
Anyway, as I indicated, there are some fairly pleasant pieces at the beginning of the story. The initial setting, where the Doctor, Ace and Benny decide to vacation, has the potential to be an appealing backdrop. At the other end of the gaping abyss that is the plot, the conclusion has some attractive features as well. Bulis inserts an interesting piece of angsty material that manages not to be gratuitous or overwrought. It's a bit contrived, but I felt that it worked. Perhaps I was merely delirious having just stumbled through the excruciating middle section, but I really was interested in what had been done with New Ace.
This interesting stuff from the opening all ends up being abandoned, and, unfortunately, the story is very very slow to actually move on to the later parts. It's all very well to have an authentic-seeming space opera where it takes multiple days to cross from one planet to another. But the danger in showing space travel as a boring and time-consuming task is that this can very easily make reading a boring and time-consuming task. Even the portions that take place on the planet surface are arduous and long. Yes, it may be quite realistic for complicated military procedures to take place over the course of several days, but, boy oh boy, you'd better have something interesting going on while all the boring marching is taking place. And there's nothing distracting during these sections at all.
There are lots of trees, to be sure. Trees don't equal excitement. And there are loads of extras just itching to be killed off. Cannon-fodder isn't entirely enthralling either. Approximately a hundred pages of the book can be summed up in four short sentences: People show up. Some are blown up. Others blow up things. Some do both. With those four sentences out of the way, you can now safely skip from about page one hundred right through until about twenty or thirty pages from the end. If you've never read this book and are planning to do so, please don't hesitate to substitute those sentences in. You'll save yourself many hours and many tears.
All that I really got out of the story is that the main villain is apparently some sort of angry adolescent briquette (I'm not making this up) bent on interstellar invasion by using a spaceship equipped with a sphincter (I couldn't make this up). There's some nice stuff tossed in randomly about making difficult decisions, but that honestly doesn't make the book worth it. Too many of the action sequences are boring and repetitive. This is the sort of book where if you accidentally turn over two pages at once, you may find yourself wondering whether it's worth expending the energy it would take to turn back the extra page.
But at least I learned why I gave up reading it the last time.