Hard to Play
Does every book need to follow the typical story structure? Protagonist vs antagonist. A hook, building action, climax, resolution. Some sort of conflict or struggle that ultimately ends in growth or death. These are the types of things I expect in genre fiction. Don't expect any of these going into The Galaxy Game.
The Galaxy Game is about three friends: Rafi, Ntenman, and Serendipity. They all live at the Lyceum, a sort of boarding school for the psi-gifted, and they are all aliens. Or maybe they're human, but certainly from different planetary backgrounds. Rafi is Cygnian (sort of generic sapient being), Ntenman is Ntshune (social networkers, fast-talkers, gossips), and Serendipity is Sadiri (calm, reserved). Rafi is a psi talent, but something's wrong with him so the Lyceum wants to hold him down with a "cap". Ntenman isn't so gifted, and somehow well-traveled for his age. Serendipity isn't a student of the Lyceum, and both boys are attracted to her, despite her indifference.
The Game of The Galaxy Game is some sort of competitive rock climbing with a team, a team leader who guides the players, and a wall of differing pockets of gravity. Ntenman puts Rafi up to playing it and he just kind of sucks. Then Rafi runs away (or just kind of casually strolls off, because no one in particular seems to care except for the Ntenman) to escape the Lyceum and ends up on another planet with Ntenman. This planet is ruled by social networks. Rafi makes friends through playing The Game as a team leader, Ntenman makes friends in black market trading. This is 3/4ths into the book, by the way. Eventually they grow as people. Kind of.
Something bad happens, but it's more or less out of nowhere, and doesn't come across as particularly devastating. Rafi, Ntenman, and, to a lesser extent, Serendipity are around to help pick up the pieces. And that's it. I feel comfortable saying these things without risk of spoiling the story because it's hard to spoil. Not much happens. Or maybe a lot happens but there's no gravity to it (that's a space pun).
That's the problem with The Galaxy Game. It's either too long or too short. The pacing is entirely off for the whole book. I spent most of my time with it wondering both where it was going and when it would get moving. The surrounding universe in which it takes place is described with a lot of proper nouns, but nothing particularly descriptive. The three main characters (really, the two main characters) travel to alien planets and do things, but what they do is either too alien to properly describe, or I'm too dumb to have gotten a clear picture.
Rafi is so boring as to be non-existent. He spends almost the entire book as a fish out of water, which is great for us readers because it means everything has to be explained to us, but I can't describe who Rafi is. He just falls into everything that happens around him. Ntenman is the talker with something of a personality, but he doesn't do anything besides lead Rafi around. He makes some friends with Zhinuvians, who might be bad guys but not all of them. Even the Ain, a race who destroyed a planet far before the story begins, are non-existent in the big picture and redeemed in the end. The rest of the characters are too aloof to even begin to connect to.
It all feels like the book is a framework for more to come but, from the story told here, I don't feel the desire to keep going. It's all world-building, with no action or intrigue. It's names without faces and everyone is adjusting in their seat, and no one's position is challenged. When Rafi is (more or less) threatened with planetary deportation, it's from a friend of his aunt who is a space cop but won't do it for some reason. It's Star Trek's Federation of Planets without any Klingons, or Romulans, or schemes, or disasters. It's extremely hard to recommend, because it feels like I learned a lot about a world without stories.
Baseline Assessment: 5/10
Bonuses: +1 a seemingly diverse, alien universe
-1 So bland that I can't describe any of it, -1 no conflict of note, -1 nothing earned or lost
Nerd Coefficient: 3/10 (Just bad)
POSTED BY: brian, sci-fi/fantasy/video game dork and contributor since 2014
Reference: Lord, Karen. The Galaxy Game [Del Rey Spectra, 2015]