What I’m NOT Reading: Tag (The Zumar Chronicles)

I really enjoy a good technothriller. They’re rare — it’s a genre that rewards “boys will be boys” cliches, clunky writing replete with poorly handled info-dumps, and really underdeveloped characters.

Tag… is not a great entry into the genre. Here’s the description from Amazon:

On 15 March 2110, 6.3 billion people will die at the hand of one man. A man with a twisted vision, to make humans a better, more intelligent race…

In the wake of Arbitrator Jonah Oliver’s interrogation of Jibril Muraz, a prisoner of UNPOL, his secure life disintegrates into one of lies, corruption, conspiracy and murder due to what he learns.

Jonah is thrown into a race against the clock to stop a plot designed to eliminate two-thirds of the population. The odds are stacked against him. He soon finds his past is not what he thought it was, those closest to him cannot be trusted, and what he’s learned could get him, or worse, his loved ones, killed.

There are the basic flaws you expect in a new author — a lot of telling vs showing, stilted dialogue, poorly handled “jokey” moments, sometimes centered around women’s bodies not being perfect, stuff like that. After that, there are the “boys will be boys! lolllls” moments. Here’s where I began to crack:

[Jonah is meeting with Sharon, his fellow UNPOL colleague, about an important prisoner who has specifically asked

my sexy face

to meet with Jonah for reasons as yet unknown. This is from Jonah’s POV.]

I really wanted to have Sharon right there and then on the table, having been thoroughly dominated and turned on by her power shakedown. I resorted to the male primeval of telling her this with my eyes. There were only two problems with this: one, she was happily married, and two, she was a lesbian and one hundred percent committed to her partner…

Well, no, there’s three, which is that you probably shouldn’t give intense “let’s fuck” eyes to your colleagues, particularly when they’re asking you to do your job… which is, by the way, not a “power shakedown.”

I got through about a quarter of this, long enough to confirm that…

1. Jonah is the one person that can destroy the evil Sir Thomas’ plans for committing a eugenics-based genocide.

2. He’s just discovered he’s telepathic, and can accomplish mental maneuvers it’d normally take years to master instantaneously.

3. Jonah is sexy enough to make Sharon Cochran think of peen, AND has better telepathic skills than this UNPOL-trained operative.


  1. Cheryl says

    *facepalms* UGH! Gary Stu, it’s NOT nice to meet you. Do the world a favor and go walk off a cliff. Thanks. All talents take time to develop and hone. Yo Yo Ma did not play cello like a boss the first time he put bow to strings. Kristi Yamaguchi was not doing triple jumps the first–or even tenth–time she stepped onto the ice. Regular training and practice is also necessary to stay in top form.

    I laugh my ass off at the author’s delusion a Hawt Guy can make a lesbian want to take a ride on his disco stick. He wishes! I wonder how much of a blow it would be to the author’s ego (and his perception of reality) to find out that even if Sharon were straight, it isn’t a given that being in the presence of a Hawt Guy would mean she’d want to bang him.

    That makes me think of a Liquid Plumr commercial that came out recently where a woman’s in the drain cleaner aisle, sees this particular type of Liquid Plumr (it comes with a pipe snake), and she starts to fantasize about a plumber coming to her home. It’s full of double entendres and gushes cheesy pr0n vibes to the point I was LMAO. She comes back to reality, hot and flustered by her steamy fantasy, only to see she’s looking at the bakery area and a man who’s holding a long loaf of Italian bread pointing away from him. He sees her staring at him and winks at her. A blog dedicated to mocking out bad commercials featured this particular gem, and one of the commenters said this was a man’s idea of what a woman’s horny fantasy is. Women are not going to get hot and bothered over drain cleaner. We do not find snaking the drain sexy. We don’t think ‘snaking the drain’ is a sexy double entendre.

  2. says

    Cheryl: All talents take time to develop and hone. Yo Yo Ma did not play cello like a boss the first time he put bow to strings.

    Yes, but this isn’t a matter of talent, it’s a matter of worldliness. This vision of female sexuality is just male fantasy, but it’s prevalent in our society. The best writers are the ones that really want to find out what makes people tick, so they, like, get to know people and find out the real scoop instead of relying on commercials and movies to tell them. This guy is just another hack, rehashing other people’s tired stuff.

  3. Alara Rogers says

    Jennifer Kesler,

    I’m pretty sure Cheryl is referring to the talents of the character, not the author.

    That being said, when you’re talking about a fantasy ability like telepathy or magic, it isn’t completely unreasonable for a person to quickly demonstrate abilities that others with that power take more time to achieve… depending on how the abilities in that universe work, and whether there has been compensation on the other side. For instance, in the movie version of X-Men, Charles Xavier is plainly telepathic as a child, and can do all kinds of stuff before, presumably, the average telepath could. Fanfic writers often explore the ways this has been a problem for him, among them, his absolute terror of pushing the boundaries of his own talent, growing up with the knowledge that his parents didn’t love him, being unable to understand his own sister because he’s promised not to read her mind and without mindreading he’s clueless…

    A good writer who wants a character to suddenly develop abilities that are better than anyone else has will work in ways to compensate to make it seem realistic. One problem I consistently have with Mary Sue/Gary Stu is “I’m just a completely ordinary and average person like you, but suddenly, I discover I have incredible abilities!” This doesn’t work for me, because if you had incredible abilities, you should have precursors to those incredible abilities. By the time you discover you have superpowers, you should be well used to being able to do things most people can’t do, you just maybe don’t realize that it’s your superpowers that are managing this. Or, if you suddenly manifest superpowers in a moment of trauma, it should take you some time to figure out what the hell to do with them… you shouldn’t be demonstrating great skill with those powers a week later.

    As for the writer’s talent, I’d argue that the ability to recognize that your character makes no sense *is* part of a writer’s talent. Orson Scott Card, who is sufficiently clueless about people that he doesn’t recognize that his argument against gay marriage (that if we let people get gay married all the men will marry men because men are just easier to love) makes it clear that he himself is closeted, nonetheless has been writing brilliantly about characters with abilities beyond human, and making them extremely sympathetic characters that draw the minds and hearts of many, many readers. He’s a very talented writer with totally fucked up beliefs that sometimes interfere with his writing. It’s true that most kids get Mary Sue/Gary Stu out of their system early, and don’t end up publishing a professional novel about her/him; it’s true that most writers who write about an impossibly talented person professionally pull it off by having the person well seated in their career, so the talents are not new, or else it’s a coming of age story about a teenager and the talents cause a lot of problems. But I think that if you don’t recognize that you’re rehashing other people’s fantasies rather than doing *anything* based on any kind of reality, it is probably the case that you are either a teenager, or you have no talent for writing. This isn’t something you’re going to improve, if you’re an adult professional writer when you start turning out this crap.

  4. Maria says

    Alara Rogers,

    I think there are definitely places where instant BAMF-ness has been treated really well. I’m thinking of the Queen’s Bastard series (http://thehathorlegacy.com/reviews-in-brief-6/) where Belinda’s initial explorations of her talent are framed as linked to her gendered identity as a woman in that time period. Like, she’s INCREDIBLY skilled at subtle magics, but way way less so at overt displays of force, because she hasn’t had the space to explore that. I’d accept being good at particular aspects of a skill — for example, I think I was born knowing how to make a good cookie. But I didn’t know EVERYTHING about baking, and wasn’t a savant at bread or tarts.

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