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Apprentice Cruise
Jack Bagley
Fine Line Publishing, 288 pages

Apprentice Cruise
Jack Bagley
Jack Bagley was born in Chicago, but moved to LaGrange, Georgia, in 1970. After high school and a brief stint in the U.S. Air Force, he became a radio announcer. He earned his B.A. and M.Ed. degrees at LaGrange College and his Ed.S. degree at Columbus State University, and has been a middle-school history teacher for 13 years. He spent 16 years as an officer in the Civil Air Patrol, retiring with the rank of lieutenant colonel.

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Past Feature Reviews
A review by A.L. Sirois

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Apprentice Cruise begins at an unspecified future time with the graduating class of cadets from the Forces Command Interstellar Fleet Academy. The focus is on Midshipman Ryan Lee and his classmates Joe Carfaro, Everett "Jeff" Jefferson, and Michelle Mayorga. Prior to their first commissions, graduating cadets must take active positions for a yearlong "apprentice cruise" aboard Fleet ships. Ryan finds himself assigned to the FCSS Lovell, a scout vessel, as a gunnery trainee. He soon learns that Joe, Jeff and Michelle will also be shipping out aboard the Lovell.

Everything starts out well enough, but soon disaster strikes: a softball-sized "asteroid" hulls the ship, killing most of the officers, incapacitating the captain, and, due to a malfunction in the engines, catapulting the ship far off course. To his astonishment and apprehension, Ryan finds himself the ranking officer aboard. He must take command and try to get his ship and crew safely back to Earth. Ryan also learns to his horror that the accident could have and should have been avoided, and that one of his friends is directly responsible.

This isn't a bad set-up by any means. Nor is the book poorly written. Its biggest problem is that there is nothing new here, despite the verisimilitude lent to the portraits of the cadets by Mr. Bagley's years in the Air Force. The ship isn't driven by any sort of theoretically interesting FTL drive, he has nothing insightful to say about life aboard a space ship, and the alien race that Ryan ends up communicating with simply isn't very vivid or imaginative. Giant insects have been, shall we say, done. That these are telepathic and have some technology doesn't lift them out of the pages of Thrilling Wonder Stories. The entire plot, in fact, reads like something out of the 40s. None of the characters is particularly interesting, and the situations in which they find themselves were old fifty years ago. Ryan even gets along with both of his parents, so there is no tension to be had there. The whole thing ends up being rather flat and uninvolving. All of these flaws combine to cripple the book.

Apprentice Cruise is Jack Bagley's first novel. It was rejected 16 times before he said to hell with it and went the POD (Print on Demand) route. Now, the annals of writing are filled with examples of writers who saw their work rejected time and again before its initial publication. James Joyce is probably the canonical example. Apprentice Cruise, however, wasn't rejected because no one could see the value in it... it was rejected because it just isn't all that good.

Now, believe me, I am not here to gleefully trash the work of well-meaning people who have worked hard to get themselves into print. What I am here as a reviewer to do is inform you about books, movies, etc. that are -- or are not -- worthy of your hard-earned credits. This book is an apprentice cruise in its own right: the first effort of someone who is trying his best and is working on honing his skills. It has a beginning, middle, and end; it has characters who go through changes; it has a plot consisting of a string of adventures. But the plot is old-fashioned and takes too long to get moving, and the characters spend too much time talking to each other about inconsequential matters. The science is creaky, too, particularly the astronomy. For example, the "asteroid" that does all the damage to the Lovell doesn't even get all the way through the ship; someone picks it up off the deck later. I could not suspend my disbelief over this particular chasm.

Mr. Bagley has said that he is an admirer of Robert A. Heinlein. He may need to study Heinlein's methods more carefully. This book does have whiffs of the master about it, but Mr. Bagley does not indicate here that he has Heinlein's skill at creating thrilling plots, genuine tension, and commanding characters. I am sorry to say that Apprentice Cruise never really gets out of port.

Copyright © 2002 A.L. Sirois

A.L. Sirois has been reading and writing science fiction since he was in single digits. He is now closer to triple digits than he cares to think about. His personal site is at http://www.alsirois.com.


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