Review: Alpha

I picked up Greg Rucka’s Alpha because Warren Ellis had nice things to say about it and because I’ve enjoyed his comics writing.  In Alpha I found a well executed thriller that didn’t have much ambition beyond that.  Now, I like a potboiler more than the next guy, so a well-executed thriller is nothing to apologize for.  It did throw Gun Machine into sharp relief, though.

Rucka’s action is tautly written and clear to follow.  Even though we’re pretty sure how things will go in the long run, there is plenty of suspense in the individual engagements. It’s always clear who’s doing what to whom and what the stakes are.  Tension builds and the action proceeds at a snappy clip.  The tactics and strategy of heroes and villains are believable and original in an action movie kind of world. The pot boils nicely.

I do wish that I cared about the characters some more.  Everyone is a little too much a variation on a theme from central casting.  I gave up trying to tell members of his anti-terrorist team apart, though they all do have cool code names.  The most interesting variations are a well realized sleeper agent and the protagonist’s deaf teenage daughter. Probably the worst thing about the undercharacterization is that when the protagonist is feeling put upon by his alienated family it’s hard not to see their point.  He is a duty-driven action hero who doesn’t do enough to help people he ostensibly cares about to see his side and that’s what they tell him.

Back at the plot, things are moving quickly and cleanly toward an exciting conclusion.  As long as you keep your eye on that, Alpha is a lot of fun.

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