Starcraft: Ghost: Nova (Keith R.A. DeCandido)
Originally planned as a lead in to the video game Starcraft: Ghost, which has since found its way into the oblivion of indefinite postponement, Nova is meant to give us a look at the origin story of the game's protagonist, November Terra, an heiress for one of the Old Families of the Confederacy and a teenager with enormous psionic potential. We learn about her early life here, and watch as she goes on the journey that will end with her becoming one of the most feared warriors in the universe. Unfortunately, this book would've been served very well by suffering the same fate as its source material, as it is a complete mess on nearly every level.
Told as a flashback story, Nova recounts the earliest beginnings of her uncovering her psionic potential, starting with the murder of her family by a terrorist group, something so traumatizing for her that she was driven to annihilate the rebels using only her mind, in an attack so powerful that she killed many innocent people as well. From there she becomes a homeless drifter, migrating to the poorer area of the city and scavenging, intimidating, and stealing food just to stay alive. Along the way she runs into the criminal element of this part of town, a group of uneducated and unskilled miscreants fascinated and terrified by her mysterious powers. Additionally, the directors of the Ghost program, an academy for individuals with exceptional psionic ability, have determined that she is worth their time due to her unprecedented talent, and we see much of the book through the eyes of a detective who is attempting to track her down.
The biggest fault of this book is that nothing really happens. After we get her origin story, something that takes about 100 pages to tell fully, the rest of the book feels quite a bit like filler. Nova wanders around, gets into trouble with the unsavory characters, and mostly just mopes about her current situation. We only get a taste for her as a Ghost, one of the cooler units in the Starcraft games, very briefly at the beginning and ends of the book. Considering this book is subtitled Ghost and intended to tie into a video game where all these powers and talents are honed, it is more than a little strange to see it come into play in such a minor way. This book fails to capture much of the appeal of Starcraft up until the very end, moving away from the bombastic, large scale warfare to a more personal conflict just doesn't suit the setting, particularly when the characterization isn't up to par to help sell this transformation.
Perhaps the strangest thing about this book is that Nova is not even the star for a good portion of it. She spends a good chunk of the book as a brainwashed slave for a local crime lord (no, this isn't a good book to read if you are looking for a strong female lead) and in her stead we get a detective looking for her as part of his role with the Ghost training program, and the crime lord and his subordinates doing their thing. All of this focus on characters not named Nova just ends up getting in the way of what this book was supposed to be about- introducing and characterizing a new and enduring person for the Starcraft universe. I wasn't expecting to read a book called Nova where the main character ends up being brainwashed and MIA for 75 pages, while absolutely nothing else of interest goes on. The other characters in this book are extremely one dimensional and have no business trying to carry this thing, and it makes no sense from a plotting perspective for them to do so.
Of course, even when the focus is on Nova, characterization is seriously lacking. Most of her characterization revolves around her powers. She is distraught because she can read other people's minds, she feels like an outcast because she is different, she feels lonely because her family was slaughtered. There isn't a lot of her personality here that comes through in any way beyond her reacting to the plot. She doesn't have any real wit, she has no motivation whatsoever, and there is very little to separate her from dozens of other 'specialist killing machine' types beyond her unique background.
Because the majority of this book takes place in the slums of the city, author Keith R.A. DeCandido decides to insert some realism into this book by having all of these crass, poorly educated characters spew profanity at a prodigious rate. This would be a pet peeve of mine even if he didn't go one step further by making up a ton of extremely lame slang words to use in place of regular cursing. Instead of coming across as hard-boiled and edgy, or whatever the idea was originally intended to be, it ends up making this whole book feel absolutely ridiculous, and making it a chore to get through the dialogue. What's worse is that the scenes featuring a lower-class point of view character will even include these ridiculous words in their narrative, making the latter half or so of the book an incredibly tedious read.
There are a few positive aspects where the writing is concerned though. Some of the most notable successes was the effort spent in world building. Readers will get a very good feel for this setting as a result of reading this book, and while that won't mean much to people with anything less than a fanatical devotion to the Starcraft universe, hardcore fans will appreciate learning more about Tarsonis, the Ghost training program, and the class system, not to mention the various odds and ends mentioned fleetingly to further flesh out the setting.
Nova might be a good look into the criminal element and class system of the Starcraft universe, and the Ghost training program, but it fails just about everywhere else. The main character is barely fleshed out beyond her simple origin story, the dialogue is unbelievably atrocious, and the story is a tired mess with no real excitement until the very end. Even fans of Starcraft will probably want to avoid this clunker.