Third Craft, The by Harris, James T., 2008

Third Craft, The by Harris, James T. - Book cover from

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The title kind of implies it could be a book about magic, doesn't it? It isn't. It's a UFO story, and it's pretty rough around the edges. And the center. And the end. This story is essentially one tried-and-died cliche and coincidence after another. It is the story of an alien war moved to Earth and waged by three or four of the sole remaining citizens of a long gone planet, oddly called "Old Earth," and the story of the humans who are struggling to learn what the conflict is all about. Two out of five stars, though I note that this is the first effort by a new author.

The Third Craft could qualify as a YA novel, if it were more about coming-of-age, and more closely related to the different experiences of the young. I say that because there is a sophisticated simplicity about text, but I have a hard time calling it a YA novel for these reasons. The story basically is this: Two young boys who live in northern Ontario, Joe and Hawk Grayer, discover an alien spacecraft buried in the side of a mountain. They excavate the craft on their own, enter it and commandeer it. The ship is self aware, and teaches them how to operate it by downloading directly to their minds. During the excavation the authorities find out what the boys have discovered, and send a team of ex Project Bluebook "experts" up from the States to get the ship. The ship is the third vehicle from a flotilla that was flying past Earth and was damaged by a "meteor shower." One ship crashed in New Mexico and disintegrated. Another crashed near Roswell, and this third one crashed in Ontario. Once the ships were down the crew's commanders, whose consciousnesses were held in stone orbs during transit, found hosts in human males and downloaded into new bodies. One alien, the good-guy who was a prince named Kor on the home world, entered the body of the man who would one day become Joe and Hawk's dad. The other, a bad-guy named Stell who was a rebel, but who somehow managed to score a berth (as captain no less!) on the last ship out from the home world, took the body of a man in New Mexico. The two men played a game of cat-and-mouse with each other for decades before the ship was discovered in Ontario. Kor managed to become the direct adviser to the President of the United States on all matters intergalactic, while Stell managed to become the second in command of the DIA. Both Kor and Stell tried for years to find the titular Third Craft because its discovery would tip the balance of power towards the lucky party. It took some time for the two to learn that the other had survived the crash and acquired a host, but once they found each other the lust for discovery heated up. Here is an example of where Harris went with his story:

Each alien had a uniquely colored aura, called a Signature. Each color combination was unique to each alien being, sort of like a genetic code. One alien could identify another's Signature as easily a human can read a nametag. Humans were unable to see or decipher these Signatures - or even their own weak auras - because their evolution had not progressed far enough.

The characterization in the novel offered nothing revolutionary either. Consider Joe Grayer, twin brother to "Hawk." He was an extremely handsome, straight-A student who was respectful to his elders, and was turning into a real man's man. His father, who unbeknownst to him was Kor, the alien, had abandoned him to a series of friends so that he could seek Stell and his crew. Despite the abandonment, neither Joe nor Hawk suffered for it. Joe's mother was dead, having been killed by Stell in an ambush on the highway while Joe and Hawk were still in utero. Kor delivered them from his wife's cooling body on the side of the road. But despite all this sappy chichi, the worst part was the way the boys spoke. There was no teenaged attitude at all, and no vernacular. For some reason the story was set in 1982, but there should have been some slang, but the boys were never anything but polite and articulate. There was just no youthful passion. This one fails as a YA for this reason as well.

It was all a bit improbable and poorly thought out. Let me just say that the details were a bit weaker than story outline, particularly in the organizational aspects of the U.S. government. About Grayer/Kor:

"We know that he officially reports to the Secretary of Defense and is listed as an employee of the U.S. DoD as a special assistant to the Secretary. We also know that he has full access to virtually every secret service department in America.

Connell whistled. "Holy cow. The only other people with clearance like that are the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

"And your president," Wright added dramatically.

"Are you trying to tell me something?"

I only wish he had been. As science fiction entheusiasists we have all come to expect for authors to come at us from a position of knowledge; they need to be experts on the topics they discuss in their novels. This author is not an expert, and seems to know little about how the Dark World of United States politics, secrecy and scientific research work. The very real fact is that we as readers do not need to be experts ourselves to spot poor research. Understanding that fact will take an author a long way towards understanding his or her craft.

The science, on the other hand, was a mixed bag. Harris is a chemist of some sort, and a businessman too. The alien's technology was based on organic chemistry, and he seemed knowledgeable and competent in that area. In others, particularly physics, I had a hard time deciding whether or not the deficiencies in Harris' scientific descriptions were due to a lack of understanding of that science, or because of his abilities as an author. For example in the passage where Joe first accelerated his craft at incredibly high velocity, without warning or warm-up Harris simply noted that the inertial dampeners kept Joe from turning into jelly, then never, ever mentioned them again.

All this is not to say that Harris is without skill. Some of his passages I found enjoyable; novel even.

Preston...loved his spot and knew the fishing holes by heart. They rarely changed year after year. He swore he had caught the same fish several times. He could tell by small markings and old wounds healed over - which reminded him a lot of himself. He even talked to the fish as he threw them back in. Gently, of course.

If my guess is right, Harris probably has an almost palpable enthusiasm for this story. Despite the many shortfalls I found during my read, I walked away with the feeling that Harris is doing something here that he may have dreamed about his entire life. Iíve never spoken to him (and after this review, I'm highly unlikely to try to make contact myself), so that really is a guess. But there is no evidence that Harris was just going through the motions here. He loved this thing, and you can tell. Unfortunately for me, that is not reason enough to buy a book. I expect for plot holes to be closed. I demand an author understand the organizational structures that he or she employs in the telling of a story. I need for an author to take the time to explain the plot contrivances that he or she uses. And when an author fails to do those things, whether it is in a hurry to get a book to market, to assuage panic over a missed deadline, or just a rush to be published and to begin gathering the glory, the book suffers for it. I am not out of notes here, but I think I am done. The Third Craft is the first book in a trilogy, though it probably could have been wrapped up sufficiently here.

Copyright © 2008, Gregory Tidwell

Reviewed by GTT · Rating Rating of 2 star(s)


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