Sunday, May 13, 2012

Shepherd492 reviews: Ghost Recon

Ghost Recon (David Michaels)  

Ghost Recon is a tie in novel for the population tactical warfare game. It is a standalone adventure featuring the protagonist of the games, Scott Mitchell, and his team of Ghosts. It serves to give some depth to his background and that of his team members, but that depth never approaches anything realistic or sympathetic. Structured as a succession of battle sequences, the book certainly delivers a sufficiently high bullet/body count, and nicely works in the cooperation between the branches of service that is so essential to success on the real world battlefield. Ultimately a shallow and unsatisfying experience, Ghost Recon fails to develop any coherent theme, present its characters in a realistic manner, or craft a compelling plot.
            The book starts off, quite appropriately, in the middle of the action, with a prologue sequence that establishes Mr. Mitchell as something of a war hero. Flash forward to another action sequence and the introduction of Mitchell's Ghost Team. The main plot kicks in after this opening mission for the Ghosts, and it is a predictable affair of imminent world war, clandestine ops, and high octane action. The Ghosts are tasked with taking down four Chinese leaders plotting the occupation of Taiwan at a meeting on an island off the coast of the Chinese mainland. The meat of the story concerns the infiltration of the island, assault of the compound where the generals are staying, and frantic escape under pursuit of pretty much the entire Chinese military. The point of view shifts rapidly during the operation, presenting a rapid fire, real-time progression of events that is well suited to both the story and the overall pacing of the novel. Not everything is killing and explosions though, as there are a few comparatively mellow "build up" sequences featuring the Chinese characters, briefings for the Ghost Team, and transit to China.
            The pacing is negatively affected only by a handful of ill advised segments featuring Mitchell's home life. They are ill advised only because they are poorly executed and accomplishes little to establish his character. Like the other Ghosts, Mitchell's story seems more like that of a recruitment advertisement than it does a real person dealing with the stress and satisfaction of the armed forces life. The segments at home do little to build on what we do know about him, as most of the relevant information is presented during the initial battle through his recollections. You do get to learn that his dad is building a coffin for himself, and the names of his siblings, but that is about it. Despite this useless diversion, the plot is a solid, action heavy one that is low on originality but high on entertainment value.
            One of the first things you will notice about this book is just how unabashedly patriotic and heroic everything is. We get into the head of every member of the team but outside of age and childhood, the characters are remarkably similar. Their vastly different experiences have shaped them into roughly the exact same characters. All of them throw in a good word for military service and harbor absolutely no doubts or questions about what is going on/their career decision. Part of this could be because, outside of a brief introductory paragraph or two, we don't spend much time in the heads of any character besides Mitchell. Another element of it may be that the book really is that one dimensional. The Ghosts never screw up in a major way, and there is a surprisingly limited amount of danger in the mission. Their actions are symbolic of super soldiers and their thoughts are roughly the same.
            One element of the overwhelmingly positive view of the military that works extremely well in this book is the cohesion between the various branches of service that is shown in order for the mission to be a success. The Ghosts are certainly the stars of the book, but they are assisted by a pair of Navy SEALS, CIA informants, and the crew of a nuclear submarine. We get lots of details from each of these positions, and the book quickly establishes that the mission would have failed without the efforts of all involved. The idea that no one fights alone is a realistic and credible one, and helps hold the power of the Ghosts in check a bit.
            Our antagonists for the novel are a host of Chinese government officials, soldiers, and rogue military leaders. Interestingly, the book makes a point to kill off every single Chinese point of view character, including the ones sympathetic to American interests (informants.) That isn't to say they were an interesting bunch to begin with though. Our antagonists are the run of the mill generic terrorist bad guys with nefarious yet ill conceived plans. The point of view passages featuring these characters achieve nothing more than letting you know what the Chinese are planning, no effort is made to humanize the antagonists or present them as anything other than demons to be stopped by the angelic death and destruction of the Ghost Recon team.
            The writing style is about what you would expect. Action scenes flow very nicely and the first fifty to sixty pages of the book are a fantastic hook. Scenes throughout remain strong, though there is a tendency to overuse the same scenarios and wording that renders the prose a bit stale by the final stretch of the book. One of the quirkier features of the writing is the frequent use of overly dramatized, needlessly described weapon introductions. One character carries a Masters of Defense Nightwing blade, and the book makes sure that you know that he never leaves home without it. The character then goes on to kill one person with it for the entire rest of the book. The paragraph of description we got for this weapon was hardly worth it when it played no impact on the story whatsoever. There are a handful of other passages like this, nothing quite so egregious but still kind of useless. Overall, the writing is pedestrian but acceptable. Metaphors and allusions are of the most basic caliber, and descriptions of setting or character are extremely unimaginative.
            Ghost Recon is a shallow but enjoyable action romp that is mostly true to the series it is based on. Despite not having any meaningful characters, an average plot, and decidedly mediocre language, Ghost Recon is well paced and chock full of explosions, combat, and death. The themes present are so hollow that you are better off just ignoring them, and if you can do that, Ghost Recon is a fun diversion for a few hours. Recommended to fans of the video game and people who like a little mindless action now and again.
Final Score

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