And just like that, I’m out of Scott Sigler stuff to read until his next book is released sometime this summer, or at least that’s what Wikipedia (“Oh my God! Ten years!”) says about the third and final installment of Sigler’s Infected series. Less than three weeks after breezing through Sigler’s first sci-fi sports story, The Rookie, I immediately picked up the 2010 sequel on my Kindle. Despite working on Angela’s Ashes for school and looking around town for a copy of the science fiction survival guide for Emily’s book club (I’ve already read World War Z, so I have plenty of time), I still zipped through The Starter in less than a week. It’s amazing how the Kindle’s percent meter makes me finish books faster.
The Starter stays true to the first installment of the series, giving the reader a story filled with lots of action, intrigue, and tongue-in-cheek humor. What’s more is that the book actually seems to focus more on drama going on off the field than the actual football games this time around. What’s more is that the book as a whole, in the end, feels almost like an expansion pack for a video game than a full-fledged sequel to a novel. That said, there are still plenty reasons to enjoy The Starter, and I’ll detail it all after the jump.
The Starter picks up right where The Rookie left off, literally. Since the world of GFL football is kind of an un-relentless bitch like that, Quentin Barnes and the Ionath Kraken get only a few weeks of rest after their Tier Two Championship before the Tier One (read: The Big F*cking Show) season starts up. Although Quentin is just a 19-year-old, albeit a 19-year-old with incredible athletic upside and competitive drive, he feels he can beat any team that gets in between him and the coveted Tier One Championship. As one would expect, he is dead wrong.
It soon becomes very clear that the playoffs are out of question for the worn down Krakens, and the whole season becomes a struggle to not be the worst team in the GFL. This isn’t just because it sucks to be last, but also because the bottom two teams in Tier One are relegated back to Tier Two. That means there’s a chance at playing three consecutive seasons for the Krakens, which would effectively put them out of the Galaxy Bowl race for a few more years.
While Quentin tries to carry the offense on his back, it becomes very clear that he has to make decisions he doesn’t want to make in order to make the team better, and make his job easier. Some of the tough choices include trading good friends to improve the offensive line, signing a tight end with loads of talent that may also be clinically insane, and breaking bread (which means eating live animals raw) with his Ki teammates as to gain their respect on the football field.
The Starter’s main focus throughout the book is on the struggles of Quentin Barnes. Not only does he have to try and bring the team together while trying to win 4 out of their 12 games, but he also has to deal with his chronic issues with anger and violence, and also a little trouble with another GFL team’s owner, who happens to be a cutthroat gang leader (just like every other owner in the GFL). I won’t go into too much detail, but I will say that it takes up a good chunk of the middle of the book, and it provides a lot of foreshadowing for the eventual three-quel, The All-Pro.
Keying in on the strengths of Sigler’s second GFL novel, The Starter excels thanks to likable characters that all have unique personalities (surprise surprise, that’s a constant in all Sigler novels) , a original story that packs a lot of intrigue and suspense in for such a shitty season, and, once again, a strange combination of narrative story-telling and ESPN Sportcenter-like media snippets that provide background for the different species around the universe, the history of the planets and their GFL teams, and actual human and alien opinions on the GFL and the Krakens (in the form of holo-TV announcers and a roundtable-style sports show). Just like The Rookie, these realistic additions to the main plot give a lot more meat to the story and the universe the story is set in as a whole. It works even more if you’re a really big sports buff (which I am).
But for every plus that’s in The Starter (and there are many more of those than minuses), there are still a few minuses to get out in the open. A little nitpicky, yes, but minuses nonetheless. My biggest qualm is that the book goes by incredibly fast, much faster than The Rookie. Maybe this is because I read through Sigler’s novels really fast in general because they’re really effin’ good, but this book just seemed faster. Due to the fact that the Krakens do pretty bad during the football season, there isn’t as much football to read about, but it seems like there is still the same amount of off-the-field stuff going on as there was in the first installment. There were opportunities for more side-stories, such as a romantic relationship that Quentin could have developed with three female characters, but they never take hold. Maybe this will make for a loaded third (and final? Not sure on that one) installment of the series. Whatever the case may be, The Starter gets that sort of “it feels like an expansion pack” response from me.
Secondly, what happened to the box scores? This is by far more me complaining than an actual fault in the book, but I was pretty bummed with the fact that the box scores that came up after every game in The Rookie were absent from The Starter. I’m sure that their absence saved Sigler a lot of work (seriously, I can’t even fathom making a full box score out of a fictional football game), but it still gave me a frowny face when I didn’t see a box score after the first game of the season.
In the end, The Starter maybe, maybe dropped off from the quality of The Rookie, but I was too busy being enthralled with the book to really give a shit about it. That’s the thing with Scott Sigler: I bet most Sigler fans (AKA The Junkies) would agree that The Starter might be his weakest overall book, but the fact of the matter is that even his weakest book gets an A grade from most of his fans. I hope I never have to stop praising the hell out of Scott Sigler, because the day he makes a disappointing novel would be a sad day indeed. Disengage man-crush.
Final Grade: A-