Review: “Not an Option” by Chris O’Connell

Chris O’Connell is a good kid. He’s smart, responsible, imaginative, and just goofy enough for his age. He is my future brother-in-law and he, like me, aspires to be a name that goes down in literary history. He’s also only 15.

O’Connell is following the path I once dared to tread: an online serial short-story series. I wish him much better luck than I had, though I doubt he’ll need it.

The first story in his series, Not an Option, is a spy tale straight out of the mind of a Cold War film maker. It is the tale of Central Intelligence Agency  rookie Benjamin Merrill, and his assignment to gather intel on a bad guy of global proportions. It has a James Bond feel to it, or at least James Bond as seen through the eyes of a 15 year old dreamer.

This short story is well thought out, he clearly had a plan going into it, and the villain is fully flushed out. The hero, less so, but we’ll get to that in a bit. First I want to tell you what I like about the story, so my criticisms will have a little bit of a cushioning. So I’ll start, much like the story, with the introduction of Erin Cross (a man, a spy) and his demise. This is where our villain, Gerhardt Strobel is introduced to us. All of his underworld, back room dealings are spelled out for us; we know he’s the bad guy, and we hate him for it.

The hero(s) of the tale are less well defined. We’re expected to root for them simply because they work for the American government, and because they are opposed to Strobel’s evil economics. We don’t have much in the way of background or motivation for the protagonist; and we’re also short a short-coming. Every hero needs a weakness: Superman has Kryptonite, Indiana Jones has his orphidiophobia, James Bond has women. Benjamin Merrill has no weakness, unless you count his absurd cockiness. Or perhaps his weakness is his own government, sending one rookie agent into a situation that has already cost them one veteran operative.

This situation is a branch of the tree that is this writer’s biggest weakness (see, every hero has one), and that is his lack of experience. Lack of experience can be tempered in several ways, the best of which is to gain the experience. At 15, however, I think he may be a bit young to work as an operative for the CIA. The second best option, and my old stand-by, is research. I have no experience as a mercenary, conspiracy theorist, hit-man  or as a psychic, but with a little research I can pull these characters off with a pretty good feel for realism. I would suggest that the author utilize the internet as often as possible (and with a few different sources) when writing about subjects he can’t possibly have any experience with.

A great example of where some research (and writing practice) would do him much better than real world experience would be his fight scenes. Setting the scene, and then having your characters interact with it in a consistent manner is a basic building block of good writing. The fight scenes in this story are both vague and confusing at the same time; particularly the opening fight sequence. But there is another problem he could fix immediately.

Spell-check is a wonderful thing. It’s a powerful tool to those of us who are no super at the whole spelling thing. I’m included in that group, believe me. But Spell-check can never take the place of good old fashioned proof-reading. “Not an Option” is not exactly riddled with easy to fix spelling and grammar mistakes, but it’s most certainly not free of them either. Something to keep in mind for the next story.

All of that being said, I enjoyed “Not an Option.” It is fun escapism (and who doesn’t love that) in the vein of one of the most popular film series ever created. So if they only get better from here, and that should be the trend when you consider the author’s young age,  then there is a lot of fun and adventure promised to us all in the future.

Now we come to one of my biggest weaknesses: endings.

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