I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating: I can forgive a lot writing problems if I’m having fun. However, this proves problematic when it comes to actually reviewing a book because, despite having fun, problems are still problems. In the case of Into the Looking Glass by John Ringo, some of those problems are hard to ignore.
Into the Looking Glass is both a typical and atypical alien invasion story dressed up as military science fiction. The book opens with a nuclear-sized explosion with its epicenter at the University of Florida. An eccentric physicist pushed an “on” switch that should have been left off, and now what’s left of the U of F is spitting out Boson particles, which proceed to then open up wormholes to other planets.
As with most alien invasion stories, what comes through any wormhole must be dangerous and hellbent on our destruction. Into the Looking Glass takes a Zerg approach to its aliens, first called the Titcher and later the Dreen. They build their warriors and structures much like a Starcraft player would, spreading a fungal-like creep along the way. As the battle for Earth escalates, so do their very organic warriors—their “tanks” are actually large centipede-like creatures that shoot bolts of plasma out of horns on their heads, for example.
Are the Dreen new when it comes to science fiction? No. Not really. But they’re fun, and as one soldier points out, killing aliens trying to overtake Earth is a guilt-free affair. There’s a strong black/white morality, but such blatant good vs. evil doesn’t really bother me here. Sometimes you just want to watch marines shoot aliens, and there’s plenty of that to be had!
Problems arise with our hero, William Weaver. Weaver is a particle physicist, and John Ringo is quick to point out that he’s based off of a real person (Travis S. Taylor who helped write the book), so the depictions of him are not unrealistic. Real or not, Weaver is an author standin in the worst way possible. He’s very smart, handsome, very athletic, somehow good with guns despite having never used them until this invasion, and everyone—including the president of the United States—turns to him for advice.
Because you know, studying Electrons and Muons as your job makes you qualified to strategize tank placements and nuclear strikes.
That being said, Weaver is almost charming enough for most of these problems to slide. I normally detest author standins, but I only ever found myself shrugging and rolling my eyes at the more gratuitous examples of Weaver being perfect in everything he tires to do. Tonally, the book somehow makes him work.
What doesn’t work is how smart the book tries to feel at points. To be sure, I appreciate the fact that Ringo sought out an actual particle physicist to help with the science, and on the whole, it’s all described quite well. I feel like I learned something about quarks and neutrinos, and that’s cool. But Into the Looking Glass wants to be smart about more than just science. No, this book wants to be hip! It wants to be with it! References to pop culture abound, and that’s well and fine, but often times they are followed up by explanations that do not need to exist. Someone mentions Cthuhlu and I laugh because I’ve read most of Lovecraft’s work; however, Ringo wants those who aren’t familiar with Lovecraft to be in on the joke too, and so he spends two paragraphs explaining Cthuhlu as a pop-culture icon. It’s tiresome and pointless.
Conservative politics make their way into this book, though since this is military science fiction, that maybe isn’t out of the ordinary. For the most part, I was able to overlook most of the right-wing ideology, and really, the novel is very pro-science (though it was written before the Tea Party became a thing). However, there are points where I just looked at the words with something akin to bemusement and annoyance.
When the Dreen first show up, it’s not the military that arrive on the scene to combat them but a group of gun collectors who very much want to use their toys. These gun collectors have fully-automatic rifles and other kinds of heavy weaponry that one assumes are illegal for the average citizen to own (though this is Florida), and what was probably supposed to be funny came off as unsavory given the rise in gun violence in today’s America.
These gun collectors are praised for doing an amazing job in regards to both tactics and firepower. One platoon leader even says, “They’re better shots than my boys!” which just came off as absurd.
However, Into the Looking Glass’s biggest transgression isn’t one of content but actually one of grammar. I’m not sure I’ve ever read a well-edited Baen book, but this one might take the prize for being the biggest nightmare of missing commas, missing words, muddy sentence structure, and repeated words in close proximity. It needs at least one more draft, but I’d really say it could go with two more read-throughs by a competent editor.
The grammatical problems took me out of the story on numerous occasions. They’re completely unacceptable in what is supposed to be a finished product that costs money.
Towards the late-middle of the book, our alien invasion turns on its head as a runaway Boson opens up onto another alien planet filled with potential allies. This is where the novel really begins to shine, and it becomes the cornerstone for the next three books. John Ringo’s universe is populated, and it’s populated by some very fun and interesting creatures.
Into the Looking Glass is a fun novel with a ton of well-choreographed battles. It’s cheesy and stupid at points, and it’s obtuse and full of itself more than it should be. But on the whole, it’s a fun piece of science fiction. I really, really wish it wasn’t such a grammatical mess though. Some problems were easy to overlook, but that one was impossible.
Problems and all, I’m looking forward to starting book two up. Things are only going to get crazier.