Book Review | Jump (by Dan Ladle)

dan ladle jump science fiction interview independent author self publishing eco terrorism

Several months ago, I was contacted by Dan Ladle, a self-published author, who asked me to take a look at his book. As you can likely guess, I have actually looked at the book – in fact, I gave Dan about 6500 words of commentary on the book. And now I’m reviewing it! Later on in the week, I’ll actually also be posting an interview with Dan, so definitely check back for that, because it’ll be pretty interesting.

Jump, as a story, follows two groups of people. The first is the EARTH Force, a group of people dubbed to be “ecological terrorists” by the mass media, who go to desperate lengths in their attempts to cultivate, protect and preserve the environment, but are being torn apart by internal conflict over how extreme their methods are to be. The second is a group assembled by the military following the development of the Jump Box – a time machine. This group – including physicists Michael Cooke and Celia Jones, inventors of the box, linguist Emily Harrison, scientific specialist David Moulder, archaeologist Andrea James and engineer Peter James, married couple, as well as Colonel Robert Masterson, who leads the group – are instructed to use the machine to travel back and forth through time, gathering data that can help to save the planet, which by this point in time is in pretty dire straits.

Unbeknownst to Masterson and his team, however, they’ve been infiltrated by the extremist faction of the EARTH Force, who are using the Jump Box to change the past – in the hopes of, ultimately, removing humanity entirely.

It’s a very clever, and timely, premise – like the best science fiction, Jump uses the language and imagery of technology to give a story about very current and important concerns. Something I liked about the story was the fact that, actually, essentially everyone involved had pretty similar end goals: to save the planet. The conflict comes from how they approach the solution to the issue, and how extreme their approach is. It was refreshing to see the military actually focusing (at least initially) on the environmental potential for the time machine, rather than jumping (haha, “jump”) straight to the possibilities for weaponising the technology.

Throughout, I did get the slight nagging feeling that I’d seen a plot like this used somewhere else – I think it was probably a couple of episodes of ITV’s Primeval – but despite this, Jump manages to present it’s own spin on things, and keep a more or less distinctive feel to it. It’s a fairly inventive plot, with quite a few riffs on familiar ideas, which sets the book apart from others of it’s ilk. There’s a couple of twists throughout the novel – both of which I managed to guess, but only through paying attention to the occasional spot of slight foreshadowing threaded throughout. I think it’s entirely possible that the second of these twists would take many readers by surprise; it builds upon the earlier, more predictable one, and reframes the entirety of the novel in a rather different light. It’s certainly one of the cleverer aspects of the novel.

Jump is written in a very simple, clear style of prose – but that’s certainly not to its discredit. Given the style of prose, I think it’s essentially the sort of thing you could expect anyone to be comfortable reading, whether they’re young or old. The only exception, actually, is the occasional curse word (no more than four or five in the entire book, only two of which beginning with an F) and some infrequent-but-moderate sexual references.

Some people probably would find it lacking; you’re never going to get long essays analysing the sentence structure or imagery employed throughout, but you’re certainly going to get a group of people who read the book, and enjoy it too.

The characters in Jump are something of a mixed bag, to be honest. They’re all rooted, essentially, in archetypes – you’ve got the soldier, you’ve got the linguist, you’ve got the physicist, and they rarely rise beyond the roles afforded to them. Certainly, they’re enjoyable to read about – physicist Michael Cooke is charming, and Robert Masterson shows a surprising level of depth at times – but equally, there’s plenty of moments where things feel rushed or underdeveloped. The big standout is where the main dissenting character quite literally says he “doesn’t respond well to authority figures”, with all the attitude of a Badass Who Doesn’t Play Well With Others™ – it’s a moment that comes out of nowhere, and seemingly only exists to signpost the fact that this character is the one who’s going to swim against the current. There’s also rushed relationships (they insist they don’t normally do this, but sleep together on their first ‘date’, and decide they love each other not long after, over the space of just a few days) and some cliche interactions between the female characters (the men really just don’t notice when someone is interested in them, do they?), but on the flip side, there are plenty of nice character moments for each individual. (With regards to the aforementioned relationship, one intimate scene wherein they discuss tattoos sticks with me, as does their eventual ending together)

(Having brought up the topic of those slightly cliche interactions, I realise I should clarify that there are four main female characters, and a few background ones, compared to 6 main male characters; I can’t remember if the book passes the Bechdel test or not. There’s not really any LGBT characters, but I don’t recall the ethnicity of any character being stated, white or otherwise. Draw your own conclusions from this; whilst the book is hardly groundbreaking in terms of representation, nothing jumped out at me as being notably offensive.)

I do want to single out the main villain, Darwin, who’s leader of the more extreme faction of the EF. Darwin is actually a genuinely quite threatening character when he’s first introduced, exuding a real air of menace, which is something that continues throughout as he blackmails the other, more moderate, EF members to support his cause, slowly wresting control of the group away from the far more hapless former leader, Jonny. One particular moment of actually quite horrifying blackmail revolved around Darwin’s possession of some “intimate” photos he shouldn’t have had – it’s a stand out moment, that really cemented the character as being quite foul. Admittedly, the end Darwin comes to does perhaps undercut the menace, but it does make him much more of a tragic figure.

Jump is, however, by no means perfect. The easiest thing to notice and pick on is the mistakes in editing and formatting; sadly, there are quite a few. On some levels, you’ve got to be understanding of the fact that proper editing is expensive, particularly for first time self published authors – but equally, when you’ve got near constant grammatical errors, more than a few examples of missing punctuation, the occasional spelling mistake, and some weird formatting, it does begin to remove one from the flow of the story,

Which is not to say the story does flow, exactly. Or at least not in the sense you’d expect.

Has anyone seen those “story rollercoaster” pictures? Like, you have however much buildup (going up the rollercoaster), maybe a twist (that’s the loop-de-loop), but eventually there’s a climax (the highest point of the rollercoaster), and then the eventual resolution.

If you’re following that analogy, Jump is essentially a “story drive” – ie one long, straight road, that doesn’t quite go anywhere. For a while, it feels like it’s something resembling a slow burn thriller, except that’s not exactly right; there’s not really any huge increase in tension, merely a forward plot motion. Details are revealed, and information is divulged, but there rarely feels like there’s much drive to plot – it feels very much like you’re just going through the motions. This isn’t true all the time (waiting to learn Darwin’s backstory was quite a page turner) but it is definitely something I was conscious of. There isn’t exactly much of climax either – for all the potential of the premise, the two groups are largely kept separate for much of the novel, and their eventual meeting is dealt with very quickly. From that point on, the novel feels like a very drawn out process of tying up loose ends and wrapping up different plotlines.

It is, essentially, a bit of an odd ending – in part because it takes so long, but it also feels like the book never quite began in the first place. There’s lots of drawn out build up, and then without any great change of pace, suddenly every character is in a relationship with another one, and they’re all walking off into their own respective sunsets. It’s something that does, ultimately, feel a little lacking.

This is, perhaps, a review that’s a bit at odds with itself. But then, so is Jump – there’s lots of good things, and lots of not so good things. It’s definitely enjoyable, but in some regards, it can also be a let down. A lot of things would probably come down to taste – I’d say that if even one of the things I described caught your interest, you should check out the book, because you likely will find things you enjoy. Just like I did really – it’s been difficult to properly discuss the things I really enjoyed without delving into spoiler territory, but hopefully what I have said is enough to pique your interest!

As it is, though, I’ll give this book 7/10.

Be sure to check back in a couple of days, when the interview with Dan will be posted! You can buy Dan’s book, Jump, here.

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