Tag Archives: Jon and Lobo

Review of Jump Twist Gate – a Jon and Lobo duology by Mark L. Van Name

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This duology of the first two books, One Jump Ahead and Slanted Jack, in the popular Jon and Lobo series was released by Baen in a smart marketing move a couple of years ago.

Jon Moore: A nanotech enhanced wanderer who wants nothing more than a quiet life and a way back to his strange home world. Lobo: An incredibly intelligent machine equipped for any environment from the sea to interstellar space. Two battle-scarred veterans jumptwistgateunwilling to tolerate injustice. Together in a jam-packed collection that not only includes the two novels, but also two short stories giving some of the backstory to the two protagonists and an interestingly frank foreword and afterword by the author.  I read the third book in the series last year, Overthrowing Heaven, and was very impressed – so when I got the opportunity to grab a copy of this duology off the shelves, I took it. Did it live up to my expectations?

This series falls into the adventure/military science fiction sub-genre. Sort of. Because although Jon is an ex-mercenary who offers his services for hire – including his lethally effective battleship – he is also allergic to killing anyone. Indeed, he goes to great lengths to try and avoid using lethal force and if someone does die, Jon treats it as a very big deal. I have to say that I find this approach to the inevitable violence very refreshing and a lot more thought provoking than those shoot-em-ups where bodies are constantly being blown up or ripped apart in a variety of gory ways.

I also very much enjoyed the unfolding relationship between Jon and Lobo. In One Jump Ahead, Jon meets Lobo for the first time and they work together. Jon’s enhancements have forced him to be constantly careful how he interacts with other people, as his greatest fear is finding himself locked up by some large corporation and treated like a labrat as they discover exactly how he came by his unique abilities. One of the consequences of these enhancements is his ability to communicate directly with the machines around him – including, of course, Lobo, his intelligent battleship. Lobo’s constant frustration with Jon’s micro-managing temperament creates a nicely sharp relationship between the two of them, which gradually deepens into trust and genuine affection – from Jon’s side, anyway. We can only guess at what Lobo really thinks…

However, Lobo isn’t the only machine that Jon can communicate with – he is also able to chat and eavesdrop on drinks dispensers and toasters, which produces some amusing interludes. I really enjoy this world – the inevitable mcguffin that allows humanity to zip around the universe in next to no time are a series jump gates, apparently left or seeded by another species. All very convenient – but there are also a number of interesting aspects to these gates that have a bearing on the plot, in addition to creating extra layers to the story and giving faster-than-light travel extra zip, something that this author is adept at doing.

In a sub-genre where a number of effective world-building writers manage to create their particular brand of magic at the expense of characterisation, Van Name’s characters are believable and suitably complex, allowing him to weave engrossing and complicated plots in first person viewpoint. Indeed, approaching the climax in Slanted Jack, I actually felt physically nervous… If you enjoy fast paced, lively space opera featuring interesting characters then this is a must-read – even if you don’t generally dip your toe into science fiction on the grounds that all that nerdy, techie stuff gets in the way of a good story, you owe it to yourself to track down this book. It’s worth it.
10/10

Review of Overthrowing Heaven – Book 3 of the Jon and Lobo series by Mark L. Van Name

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This is another excellent offering from Baen – which immediately tells those of you in the know that this is adventure space opera, with something of a military edge. There is plenty of action, with plot twists aplenty and two strong protagonists who fully engaged my sympathies and drew me into the world.

overthrowingheavenJon Moore grew up on an island of outcasts and in a prison laboratory. When he escaped, memories of the things he’d done still haunted him and he often helped those in need. This particular adventure began as a favour to a woman trying to get away from an abusive household. However, his kindnesses frequently didn’t work out well. This one really didn’t work out well.

It hurled John and Lobo, the intelligent assault vehicle and Jon’s only friend, down an accelerating, dangerous spiral involving: private armies and government covert ops teams; a courtesan who always seems a step ahead of him; rival superpowers that define ethics as whatever doesn’t get in their way; and a brilliant, amoral scientist to whom human beings are just more experimental animals – and who might be Lobo’s creator.

I have to say that the book is better than it sounds on the blurb – I’m not convinced that their back-of-the book summaries are one of Baen’s strengths. However, there is nothing wrong with the quality of their current stable of authors – I’ve recently read a batch of Baen books which have all impressed me and Van Name is one more to add to the list.

His characterisation of Jon is extremely deftly done in first person viewpoint – we get a real sense of how damaged and closed off he is because of his horrific childhood. At times, this is played for laughs – Jon’s complete cluelessness with women and Lobo’s merciless teasing creates some welcome humour in amongst the ever-tightening tension. There are also times when Jon’s essential loneliness creates a real sense of poignancy. I also very much liked the fact that despite their formidable strengths, Lobo and Jon are not depicted as invincible. They are up against a major organisation and there is a realistic appreciation of just what a difficult business it is for an outsider to gain access to Wei, the unscrupulous scientist, whom Jon and Lobo are contracted to extract. The other aspect to this book, which is a recurring theme throughout, is that Jon is determined that no one should die unnecessarily. He constantly wants to use trank weapons and is concerned that injuries he inflicts on his opponents aren’t life threatening. In a genre where violence is a staple and bloodstained bodies are part of the landscape, I found this preoccupation both enjoyable and a refreshing change. Jon is very aware that it is only his moral compass that sets him apart from a monstrous killing machine – and doesn’t let the reader forget it, yet manages to avoid any kind of preaching. It’s a clever trick to pull off.

Van Name’s pacing is faultless. It zips along at an appreciable rate so that a 541 page book didn’t seem long, yet at no time what I ever left in any doubt exactly what was happening in any of the action scenes. He also manages to effectively provide the whole unfolding plotline from a single viewpoint without sliding into omniscient viewpoint or holding up the action with a lot of description – an achievement which is a great deal harder than Van Name makes it look. He also earns a gold star from me by managing to make a third book in a series sufficiently stand alone, that I didn’t feel I was missing anything by not having read the two earlier books, One Jump Ahead and Slanted Jack. Having said that, I’m definitely going to try and get hold of them – Van Name is a great storyteller whose world is worth another visit.

10/10