Review: The Rookie by @scottsigler – A book of aliens playing football
I didn’t know what to make of ‘The Rookie’ by Scott Sigler when I first heard about it. Originally released way back in the ancient days of 2009 (well, on podcast in 2007), ‘The Rookie’ is a book about football… in space. Yes, you read that right. Still, when you think about it, the premise is not as unusual as it may appear at first. Bloodbowl and Mutant League Football both previously dealt with the topic of fantasy (as in, orks, goblins, and whatnot) playing football, so why not ask the question of what football would look like if we got interstellar capabilities and spread the sport to the many surrounding star systems. I am a fan of football (principally the Tennessee Titans, thank you for asking) and science fiction as a general rule, so I went over the Sigler’ site where you can purchase a copy of the eBook for $4.99 directly from the author. Please be aware that I have tried to keep spoilers to a minimum, but it is impossible to review a book decently without some spoilers so, you know, spoilers (although nothing that will ruing the story for you, I don’t think).
In ‘The Rookie’ we are introduced the Quentin Barnes, a young football player from the Purist Nation – a group of people that left Earth a long time ago to get away from the aliens, which are viewed as unholy – who has dominated his little, backwater human-only football league and is ready to take the next step in intergalactic football. Sigler models the Galactic Football League roughly after European football (that is to say, soccer), where there are a ton of Tier 3 teams that act as a breeding ground for football talent, a number of Tier 2 teams that are trying to get to the championship game (the top two teams in Tier Two get promoted to Tier One), and the big time, Tier 1 where the top 22 teams play for the real football championships, but the bottom two teams get demoted to Tier 2.
Still, while Sigler’s GFL football is still, in many ways, our football, it is not in several other ways. On field deaths are not unusual in the GFL and each alien race tends to specialize in playing a particular position (Ki, who stand six feet tall and have bodies that go six feet back with multi-jointed legs, specialize in playing on the line, for instance). Sigler does a great job of conveying the speed and ferocity of GFL football. The football games make up roughly half of the book and are never dull. Sigler even goes so far as to do full stat lines at the end of each game, where you can review how each player did over the course of the game. Broadcaster analysis is interspersed before and after games to break things up.
Still, while there is a lot of football in ‘The Rookie’ the book is as much about Barnes’ journey off the field as on. Barnes acts as our surrogate in dealing with this strange world, as his unfamiliarity with how things work outside of the Purist Nation allows Sigler to naturally explain it to us without being pedantic. Barnes’ growth over the course of the book is satisfying and many of the other characters are interesting and compelling as well. Barnes does not only have to deal with his new teammates, however, his new career in Tier 2 football will also bring him face-to-face with organized crime and other forces that have an interest in football.
And that brings us to what Sigler really does best: Building a believable world. There is something authentic about Sigler’s alien races, which are distinctly not people-with-funny-makeup, and the ecology of each race is explained. There is even a long section at the end of the book where Sigler throws in even more information about the world surrounding the GFL, with numerous religions, interesting planets, and different races to learn about.
That is not to say ‘The Rookie’ is perfect (although I would go so far as to say it is ‘very good and thoroughly enjoyable’). Occasionally dialogue jumped out as being a little ‘expositiony’ to me, where I felt like a person was briefly becoming a tool to tell us a necessary piece of information that seemed just a little out of place. It didn’t happen often, which is why it was so jarring the couple of times it did. Also, I would have a hard time honestly recommending ‘The Rookie’ to anyone that doesn’t have at least a base understanding of how football works or isn’t willing to obtain it. That is not to say you need to enjoy football to enjoy the rookie, but Sigler shows off a good range of football knowledge and much of the technical stuff he goes into likely won’t be enjoyed if you don’t know how real football works. Still, my biggest sticking point was the idea of an entire alien race that essentially worships football. It may not be a thing for you, it is – after all – a science fiction book – but something about it took me out of the world rather badly whenever it was mentioned. I think that because the rest of the world is so well built and realistic, there was something about the idea that really seemed just a little too precious to me. The last, somewhat minor sticking point, was Sigler’s occasional use of parodies of real football related names for current alien people. Again, it just seemed out of tone with the otherwise pretty serious parts of the book. I get the wink-wink nature of it, but it broke my immersion.
Still, in case you didn’t notice, these are all very small sticking points. ‘The Rookie’ is well-written, fast-paced, and intense. Sigler shows a solid knowledge of the game of football and his evolution of Barnes’ character is extremely satisfying. If you have at least a passing knowledge of football and an interest in sci-fi literature, I would definitely recommend you give ‘The Rookie’ a read. If you are unconvinced, Sigler has released The Rookie (and his other books) as podcasts for absolutely nothing, although if you enjoy it at all I would encourage you to buy a copy of the eBook in support of what he is doing (no money in free podcasts, after all). While you can get an eBook copy of ‘The Rookie’ directly from Sigler for $4.99 right now, it will also be released as a mass-market paperback in August, 2012. There are presently two other books in the series (‘The Starter’ and ‘The All-Pro’) with The MVP (the fourth book in the series) due out later this year.