I discovered Chris Fox through Instagram. I’m pretty sure it was Instagram. I found an ad for an eBook titled ‘5,000 Words Per Hour.’ This is, of course, kind of a ridiculous goal, but I started reading and it put forward a decently well-explained method to do what the title says. I found that he was a YouTube vlogger, and watched a few of his videos. He had some pretty interesting ideas, and if nothing else, got me to start using a to-do list application (I like Todoist).
So, of course, I was interested in what he’d actually written. A quick search led me to his body of work, and I got a quadrilogy he’d written after Destroyer, and Destroyer. I started with Destroyer first since it’s part of the Void Wraith trilogy and that name just sounds sick as hell.
It took me until the end of the novel to realize this was Fox’s first sci-fi novel, as he states it in the small afterward. As such, I feel somewhat guilty for critiquing it as much as I’m going to (spoilers), but there’s a lot I want to talk about. But still, this is his first sci-fi book and it sure reads like it.
The cover art, by the way, isn’t indicative of anything that actually happens in the book. It’s some generic sci-fi art with cover text slapped on it. Admittedly, I don’t think it looks half bad. I just hope the art was paid for.
The plot is pretty basic. Colonies are disappearing, clearly being taken out by the enigmatic Void Wraith (Fox seems to think ‘Wraith’ is plural but I don’t think it is?), who act like Mass Effect‘s Reapers but look like StarCraft‘s Dark Templar. The story follows Commander Nolan, who’s just as much of a Mary Sue as you’d expect with this kind of thing. Just continuing that male savior trope that seems to follow all sci-fi (looking at you, Commander Sheridan from Babylon 5).
I originally wrote that as ‘white savior,’ but Fox never actually describes anything about Nolan’s appearance (as far as I can recall). He also never describes anyone’s race, though it’s a tossup as to whether that’s because he’s intentionally keeping it ambiguous, or he just assumes everyone’s white.
Nolan’s first name is only dropped once in the entire text, so I had no idea if he only had the one. I don’t know why this bothers me but it bothers me. It’s Adam, by the way.
I said the plot is basic, but I don’t mean that it’s bad. It’s a fast read, and everything flows naturally enough. There weren’t any points in the novel where I put the book down, wondering where the plot was going. Fox puts in some cuts away to Nolan’s old flame Kathryn, so she can develop the subplot taken straight out of Star Trek TNG’s “Conspiracy” episode.
The ship he serves on, and by extension the ship we’re made to care about, is the UFC Johnston. Which, I think, is a pretty boring name for a ship. It’s a member of the 14th fleet, but we don’t ever really see any other members of the 14th. The Johnston spends the entire book operating alone, and no other ships of the fleet are mentioned. So is it just a fleet of one ship? Why is it even a fleet, then? Where are all the other ships? Were they all destroyed in the war with the Tigris?
The Tigris, by the way, are the Kilrathi of Wing Commander who act like Klingons from Star Trek. That’s everything you’ll need to know about them.
The other alien race, by the way, are just the Protoss from Starcraft. They’re even called Primo.
You may have noticed I’m making a lot of comparisons to other sci-fi. Normally I don’t like doing this, I try to see the individuality of each piece of media I experience, but in the case of Destroyer, there’s… not much. It’s not that Fox takes entire plot lines from his inspirations, but their influence is so strong, it reads like he’s playing by their rules instead of making up his own. Which turns this book into a game of guess-that-sci-fi. The original ideas he does have are so poorly developed that they did stop me reading just so I could think about how they even worked.
FTL works in this setting by literally diving into stars because there are stable wormhole generators (stargates, basically) in their cores. They apparently aren’t crushed by the heat or pressure because their shields can harness the star’s energy to keep things cool. Which, whatever. It’s weird, but whatever.
But like, does every star have one of these stargates? (or Helios Gates, for that matter). That’s a lot of stars. How did they even get there? One thinks the Primo, being the first race, put them there, but at their height, they were only said to have 400 colonies. There’s a heck of a lot more than 400 stars in the Milky Way.
How did humanity even discover this? Were we gifted the Helios Drives (the name of this star-delving FTL tech)? Did we find it ourselves? Did we send a ton of test ships into the sun? Boy I hope those weren’t manned.
Commander Nolan is said to work for the Office of Fleet Intelligence. Its purpose is self-explanatory. But… that’s the only administrative body ever mentioned for humanity. We’re never told what humanity calls its whole government, like the Galactic Terran Alliance (shout out to Freespace) or United Earth or anything. At one point, it sounds like OFI is the administrative body. What?
Why is there only one ship in the 14th fleet?
The characters are, in general, dull. Nolan always has a plan, and his experience in OFI means he knows pretty much everything there is to know about everything relevant to the plot. He’s never in a position where he doesn’t know what to do, or is ever dealt consequences for his actions.
The captain of the Johnston, Dryker, gives him command at the beginning of the novel in a potentially hostile situation, which ended up in at least two causalities. That is a huge dereliction of duty. He later self-destructs the Johnston to stop some Void Wraith, without checking if there’s anyone else alive on the ship except for the people with him. He specifically neglects to announce it over the intercom so the Wraiths don’t catch on. He has no idea if anyone else is still alive, and makes no effort to find out.
He’s a pretty terrible captain.
Why do all the alien races speak the same language without any difficulty? Why does everyone default to English?
How did Commander Nolan get disgraced and put on the Johnston, anyway? The apparent reason is that he’s a ‘womanizer,’ which is the only real character trait we’re told he has, but more importantly, he had a relationship with the aforementioned Kathryn. But they seem to be on decent enough terms so…?
Really, it’s just because her father, an admiral, wanted him out of the picture. This is all probably further explored in a prequel story Fox wrote, but I don’t feel like reading that since you shouldn’t offload important character backstory into some separate thing
Fox has an interesting writing style, in that he has a lot of chapters (I think 70+) that are less than 2,000 words. Reading some of the book on my computer, most chapters could fit on a single two-page screen. It’s an unorthodox method of writing, but to Fox’s credit, it did keep me reading in longer stretches than I otherwise might not have. He describes his method as being better for people who can’t read quite as long, such as during a commute, so he prefers short, punchy chapters that you can read through and feel satisfied of your time spent.
I think it’s actually a novel idea, and in general it works well with Destroyer. My main complaint is that it doesn’t leave much room for exposition or worldbuilding. Generally, I take a less-is-more approach with exposition, but there were many places in Destroyer where I wished Fox would give us a few more paragraphs about the world so it could gel in my mind better. So many places had my suspension of disbelief completely blown because of the vagueness of Fox’s prose.
One sentence sums up my thoughts on Destroyer. Really, part of one sentence. If you have any knowledge of naval terminology, I hope you’ll do a double take like I did.
“…three vessels have de-cloaked off our starboard port.”
As much as I’m critiquing this book, I’m still interested in seeing where this Void Wraith Saga’s going, so I bought the second book.
Despite Destroyer being an amateurish book ripping off multiple sci-fi franchises, at least he got me to buy the second book. I just hope his more recent works have learned from his efforts here.
If nothing else, it made me want to write my own military sci-fi story, so at least I’ve got that going.
You can find Chris on his website.