Television writing and book writing can be very different things, and sometimes it's hard to move from one to the other. When people do make that transition, sometimes they fall back on what they're used to, and it just doesn't work in the other medium.
This especially caomes to mind when reading Howard Gordon's Gideon's War. Gordon has been in Hollywood for over 20 years; he was a writer and producer on The X-Files and, more recently, 24. Now he's decided to write a book, a political/action thriller where Jack Bauer would not look out of place. Sadly, too many television tropes make the book a rather tedious read, even with almost non-stop action.
Gideon Davis is the President's go-to guy whenever he needs a particularly delicate negotiation done. He is being honored at the UN for his latest accomplishment when he's pulled away by the President and his advisors, including old family friend Earl Parker. They ask him to help bring in a rogue agent, Tillman Davis - who just happens to be Gideon's brother. He'll only surrender himself to Gideon. When the situation explodes, Gideon is forced to make his way to the Obelisk, a huge oil platform off the coast of the war-torn country of Mohan. Terrorists have taken it over, and one of them may be Gideon's brother. He has to stop them before they blow the platform to pieces.
As can be assumed from a book written by a writer on 24, the action in Gideon's War is relentless once things get going. Complication piles on top of complication, making the rescue of the oil platform workers a nail-biting endeavor. Gordon hooks the reader with these action set-pieces, though he does take the time to briefly explain why Gideon refuses to use guns.
Those readers familiar with 24 will see the various plot twists coming a mile away. I didn't watch the show, but I was familiar enough with it that they didn't surprise me at all. It would have been nice to have a more original plot. That being said, Gordon does give his characters an interesting situation to take care of, with lots of little thrill-inducing items that will make things more difficult for the characters. Need to isolate the oil platform? Have a typhoon bearing in on it.
The one major problem in Gideon's War, though, demonstrates the difficulties in moving from television to books. The perspective in some scenes shifts from character to character so often that it almost gives you whiplash. In one three-page section, there are five perspective changes. First there's Gideon, then the head terrorist, then Kate Murphy (the head of the oil platform), then two more. Just as you realize who is "talking" (or who Gordon is talking about), it switches to another one. It gets quite distracting after a while; I pictured the camera moving from one actor to another in the scene.
Gideon's War does keep the reader riveted to the story as it moves from one action-packed scene to the next, with just enough character development to stave off complaints about there being too many firefights. It's also a quick read, with short, sharp scenes that also reminded me of a television episode. Gordon's prose style is perfect for the story he's trying to tell.
Still, the character development barely reaches the realm of a third dimension for the main characters, and not even that for anybody else. Gordon tries. Kate lost her husband a while back and has buried herself in her work ever since then. Lucky she's going to meet a handsome guy soon, eh? Gideon slowly learns that sometimes you do have to commit violence to safeguard other people. The villains, are almost cardboard, with one-dimensional motivations which really aren't that interesting.
There is the shell of a great action novel in Gideon's War. Sadly, Gordon isnít able to flesh it out into a truly interesting one. His writing will keep you reading, and you'll enjoy it while you do so. Afterwards, you'll wonder why you bothered.