Triple Zero (Karen Traviss)
Triple Zero continues the narrative started in the first Republic Commando book, Hard Contact, by doubling the cast of characters and expanding on themes introduced in the first book, all while having our heroes foil a major terrorism cell on Coruscant itself. The book represents a major shift in direction from the series, moving away from the action oriented military sci fi with subtle characterization and thoughtful questions concerning the morality of cloning soldiers to a character heavy book that reads more like a soap opera at times and lays the pathos on quite thickly at every possible opportunity.
The setup of the book involves re connecting with the main characters from the last book, newly minted Jedi Etain and the four clone commandoes in Omega Squad. We learn what each of these characters has been up to since the last novel, and the abrupt ending to the last book is filled in a bit. More importantly, the pivotal character of Kal Skirata is finally introduced. Kal raised Omega squad and trained them to be the hardened killers they are today (he was mentioned in the last novel but features heavily in Triple Zero, arguably becoming the main character of the series) and as a result he has a very strong bond with and influence over them and their ARC brothers. The clones from the Republic Commando video game show up too, serving as a foil for the Omegas. It doesn't take long for all of these characters to find themselves re-united, and coupled with Jedi and wannabe Mandalorian Bardan Jusik and Delta's instructor Walon Vau, in addition to a handful of tertiary support characters, the book has a very large and dynamic cast to utilize, but a very poor story to use them in.
The large cast definitely starts to work against the book when the main conflict is introduced. A terrorist cell is bombing different areas of Coruscant and a mole is suspected inside the Republic bureaucracy. Skirata and team hole up in the city to try to smoke out the evil doers and bring them to justice the quick and easy way. There are a few action scenes to break things up, but one thing that can definitely be said for this book is that it manages to capture the boring and tedious nature of counter terrorism work very well. This isn't a novel built on thrilling chase scenes, saber duels, or blaster shootouts. Instead, this book is a very slow, character driven tale.
While the terrorism plot does present some interesting opportunities for unique set pieces in the Star Wars universe, there is very little done to take advantage of this premise as instead we are treated to scene after scene of people talking. Not talking about how to defeat the terrorists or the logistical problems and future plans for the operation (though there is a tiny bit of that) but talking about how this clone hates this other clone, and this sergeant has brutally scarred this clone, and then this Jedi apprentice is desperately trying to fit in with the Mandalorian-inspired clone troopers. More often than not, this book just doesn't feel like Star Wars, and is anything but engaging from a story point of view.
Having such a large cast, especially one filled with characters who look identical and have very similar life experiences, is a daunting one, but the book is far better when it focuses on these characters and their slight differences than it is when it looks at any of the non-clone cast. Kal Skirata is one of the five or six worst characters I've ever read. His view points, character flaws, and image among the others in the group are straight out of fan fiction. Basically he is never wrong in any of his long winded tirades, his only faults are caring too much and being too emotional, and everyone loves him. Skirata managed to completely turn me off of this book somewhere between his fifth and seventh rants about how badly the Republic is exploiting his poor clone commandoes. All there is to this character are these monologues, and it becomes quite hilarious once you realize that the author basically inserted herself in the form of this near-perfect man.
The other cast members aren't nearly as bad, but for the most part they don't stand out either. Delta Squad and the ARCs are well entrenched in the generic commando trope. They spend a lot of time making jokes and being amazingly competent, ultimately doing very little else. Omega is better from a character standpoint, though they have the benefit of a previous novel that focused on them, their development here is sub-par. The relationship between Etain and Darman couldn't have been more forced. There is very little interaction between them at all, and instead we are treated to brief overviews of what has happened in their relationship in favor of more Kal Skirata rants concerning the injustice of it all. This is particularly disappointing as the two were a surprisingly competent Star Wars romance in the first book, and here the most important elements of the relationship are simply glossed over or used for more vitriol about how unfair the clone's lives are. Jusik's quest to fit in could be a decent character struggle, but the author never examines this character and instead provides his development solely through the observations of other characters.
Another major downside concerns the antagonists. Namely that there really aren't any. Sure, the terrorists exist as a vague threat and more than a few bad guys go down in a hail of gunfire in this novel, but there is no overarching bad guy or evil mastermind at the heart of the plotting. In fact, there is only one baddie that gets even a tiny amount of text and all of it is solely for the purposes of the plot. There is no foil like Ghez Hokan in Hard Contact, and nothing to provide a sense of legitimacy to the Confederacy's plans, which instead exist only in the abstract. I suppose it all works out alright though, because time dedicated to building a credible threat would take pages away from lamenting the unfair fate of the clones!
One of my least favorite elements of the story, and biggest deviations from Hard Contact, comes in the way the themes are delivered. The idea of clones being downtrodden and exploited by the Republic is a totally valid one, but there is a point where it just becomes too much. Author Karen Travis finds a way to harp on this point in nearly every chapter, blaming civilians, Jedi, Republic senators, and no one in particular for the grievous misuse of the men. It gets old fast and feels quite useless, doing little more than further tearing down what credibility this book had. More so even than the super dramatic character interactions, the overwrought exploitation angle is a massive turn off for enjoying this book.
There isn't much to like in terms of prose. The writer got so bogged down in telling us about how horribly the clones are mistreated that there is very little else of consequence in this book, and the writing definitely suffers for it. If you can look past the constant preaching, there are a few witty lines, and in terms of military realism this book is certainly a step up from the usual Star Wars fare with its many acronyms and more fleshed out squad tactics. Other than that though, this is about as bad of a read as you could expect. The author is terrible at telling instead of showing, ruining her chance to sculpt genuinely moving events in favor of brief summaries, and for all the emotions present in this book, the word choice and sentence structure never seem to mirror what the point of view character is feeling or augment the mood of the scene. A very poor effort all around, with the emphasis coming in all the wrong places for a book of this nature.
Two months ago, I read the first and second Jedi Academy trilogy books back to back and was shocked at the quick drop in quality from one to the other, with the series being the only one currently with an entry in both my top ten and bottom ten Star Wars books. After reading the mess that is Triple Zero, with its utterly contrived emotional sequences, obnoxious author insertion, and overly preachy tone, the Republic Commando series has managed to match that dubious distinction. Read Hard Contact for military sci fi done right, read this book for a soap opera done horribly wrong.