Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Patrick Lee's 'Breach' Trilogy

Why write a breathless fan review of Patrick Lee's amazing trilogy when Andrew Salmon has already done it for you?
"In these days of over-hyped, over-marketed, multi-volume mega-series, it's hard to find a series of novels that truly justifies their existence. It's all about branding and stretching stories out to 1000s of pages for purely economic reasons is, sadly, the norm these days.

"Patrick Lee's incredible Breach trilogy is the exception to the rule.

"In three of the best edge-of-your-seat thrill rides this reader has ever had the pleasure to read, Lee gives us a New Pulp trilogy for the ages. The novels are The Breach, Ghost Country and Deep Sky and all three are lean, mean, thrill machines you do not want to miss.

"But enough hype. What is this rollicking trilogy about?

"In the first novel, The Breach, we are introduced to ex-con, ex-cop Travis Chase who is seeking to escape his past and find solace in the frozen, isolated wastes of Alaska as he tries to decide what to do with the rest of his life. That answer comes unexpectedly when he stumbles upon a unmarked 747 that crashed in the frozen wasteland just days before. To his surprise, no one has reached the wreck despite clear weather and the proximity of the crash to the nearest town.

"Added to this mystery is the discovery that the survivors of the crash have been tortured and killed, including the First Lady who has left a note providing the location of the torturers but also desperate instructions for whoever finds it to kill not only the torturers but also the two remaining surviving passengers. Chase heads to the scene but instead tries to rescue the two prisoners, a man and a woman. In a great action sequence, he fails to save the man but manages to save the woman who is critically injured during the battle.

"The woman, Paige Campbell, it turns out, is an agent of Tangent. Their goal is a simple one. They are trying to save the world. Not from a terrorist plot, or from some unseen enemy representing a shadowy, potential threat to the US or democracy. No, they are literally, trying to save mankind from ultimate destruction.

"Destruction by whom? Ah-ah. That would be telling. But I will tell you this: Tangent agents are trusted to guard, examine and study, The Breach, which is a form of wormhole that resulted when a particle collider was tested back in 1978. Since that time, items have been appearing on our side of the breach, items sometimes mundane, often unfathomable, and often deadly dangerous with strange properties and powers. Are they from the future? Another dimension? Are they the prelude to alien invasion? No one knows. Called Breach Entities, the good guys need to keep these items away from the bad guys.

"That's the set up and I'll leave the first novel here so as not to spoil the action. And there is a ton of great action in this first installment despite the novel being somewhat hampered by the need to introduce the above premise.

"The action picks up in the next novel, Ghost Country, which is the biggest and boldest entry in the trilogy. This one kicks off with the President's motorcade being taken out. Now such a sequence would normally be the climax of a great action tale but here Lee begins the tale with this breath-taking action. And it's an indication of the action that is to come.

"Paige Campbell, with mere seconds before capture, must get a message to Chase telling him to retrieve a Breach Entity similar to the one lost in the destroyed motorcade. Chase, who has left Tangent and Campbell for compelling reasons set down in the first novel, has no choice but to re-involve himself with Tangent and the Breach and sets out to find this second artifact.

"This device turns out to be a means for the user to jump ahead 73 years into the future - a future where mankind has been wiped out by a Breach entity. To reveal more would be to spoil the biggest, boldest, grandest entry in the series.

"Put simply, once you pick up Ghost Country you will not put it down. It is filled with trips through time, government conspiracies, action galore, heroism and sacrifice and enough left over to set up the third and final novel.

"Deep Sky is much smaller in scale and tone although the main mystery remains intact and there is still tons of action. Reading it after Ghost Country, however, may seem like something of a letdown because of this scaling back and, really, there is only one thing that can elevate the work: and that's the revealing of what the Breach is while wrapping up the various plot threads. The world is still ticking down to destruction and here the baddies are taking out anyone associated with the Breach and this is all compelling stuff.

"But it's the secret of the Breach that will either make or break the book after the compelling first novel and the exemplary Ghost Country. I, too, was somewhat taken aback by the approach in Deep Sky. Don't get me wrong, as a standalone work, it is an action thrill-ride but after Country the action paled somewhat even though I was still feverishly turning pages.

"This brings us to the secret of the Breach itself. No, I'm not telling. It would be a crime to spoil the fun for readers. Here Lee is faced with the problem of all mystery-driven fare: how to come up with an explanation that will wow readers who have had the time, over the course of the previous two novels, to theorize and come up with their own explanation for the ultimate secret. Obviously it is impossible to satisfy every reader in this situation.

"As for this reader, no stranger to this type of story, the reveal blew my mind. I never, in a million years, saw it coming and it truly surprised me. All in a good way. That said, and for the reasons stated above, your mileage may vary when Lee draws back the curtain. All I can say is that it worked for me and I was left in awe after reading the last page. Needless to say I've got an eye out for the next Patrick Lee book. The Breach trilogy is simply brilliant."
So I'm good with all that. One reviewer commented that 'Travis Chase' was a terrible name for an action hero; I'm not so sure, Chase is a kind of everyman hero (for values of everyman which include the ability to kill bad guys repeatedly without the slightest trace of remorse).

After a while you 'get' Patrick Lee's style. Like A. E. van Vogt, he sets up crises and cliffhangers every few thousand words; as Andrew Salmon intimated, the resolution is invariably unpredicted by the reader and takes the plot to a new place. But given the small cast of central characters, with which one is somewhat over-familiar by the end of volume 2, there is a sense of disengagement as one approaches the final volume. This crisis-fatigue is obliterated by an astounding plot-twist about halfway through (you will not see it coming!) which then locks the reader into a page-turning frenzy to the very last words.

Mr Lee's science extrapolations are pretty extreme, but never quite tip the book into fantasy. Like Mr Salmon, I'd have to say that this is the best pulp-fiction I've read for ages.

Feminist note (based on a sample of one): I think volumes 1 and 2 would work for non-SF female readers, although they may note the occasional data dump which slows the action, and the way in which the women (Paige Campbell and later Bethany Stewart) occupy subordinate roles to a much less educated and prepared Travis Chase.

I suspect volume 3, however,with its more science-fictional plot, may be just a step too far*.


* Unless, my sister suggests, Patrick Lee arranges for it to be shipped in a pink cover.

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