A Long Way Home
A Long Way Home. Terry McInnis.
Original Publication: 2007
Current Availability: eBook
Editor’s Note: This review originally appeared on RPG.Net in June of 2010, and is reprinted here and in the April 2012 issue of the downloadable magazine with the author’s permission.
Author’s Note: I think that one of the best ways to prepare yourself to run a game is to immerse yourself in its fiction, and thus get a real sense of its milieu. Thus, this series of reviews, which looks at some of the fiction that influenced Traveller, was influenced by Traveller, or is actually set in the Traveller universe.
The New Era time period has attracted the most attention from fiction writers; this review covers another of those stories.
This twentieth reviews covers A Long Way Home by Terry McInnes, a serialized novel. The first 16 chapters of it appeared in Traveller Chronicle issues #11-13 (1996-1997). However, it took another decade for the full 34-chapter book to become available, when it was published by Comstar Media and Avenger Enterprises as a PDF.
About the Story
A Long Way Home is largely the story of Sean McKinnie, a farmer in the Wilds who suddenly stumbles into the world of the Reformation Coalition Exploratory Service (RCES) when he saves one of their operatives from death at the hands of the local tyrant (a “TEDdie”).
To avoid death himself, Sean is forced to flee his home with the RCES. Among the stars he will find a new career, new goals, and new love. In the end, he will return home, to help his home country out from the oppression that it currently lives under.
(Then he’ll go and fight some Virus ships and ‘bots too, because that’s what people do in The New Era.)
Spread throughout all of that is a story of romance, as Sean woos, loses, and regains that aforementioned “new love” found out amidst the stars.
Genre & Fiction
A Long Way Home is “gaming fiction”, by which I mean a story that could occur to a group of characters, as they wander somewhat randomly from place to place and encounter danger and problems. Unfortunately, it also shows how weak the genre of gaming fiction can be when used in inexperienced hands.
My biggest problem with A Long Way Home is that it’s dull, and that’s because it’s a meandering mess of a picaresque novel gone wrong. Perhaps it might have read better as a weekly cliffhanging serial, but that’s not how it’s presented.
You see McKinnie bounces from situation to situation with little rhyme and no particular reason for the readers to care about what he’s doing. He’s rescued from home, then he’s off at boot camp, then he’s taking out a TEDddie, then he’s helping to take his home back, then he’s fighting vampires.
Two problems make this style of story even worse.
First, the author’s attempts to create tension are entirely clumsy. Things just go wrong again and again. A clamp breaks in space, sending McKinnie flying off into space. A guard spots McKinnie and his Moonshadow crew as they sneak around. Slavers capture McKinnie’s family just days before he returns home. Either McKinnie is the unluckiest guy in the world or else his RCES crew mates are entirely incompetent.
Second, the author has no filter. He’s unable to differentiate between what’s important and what’s not. Thus, at one point in the 224-page novel we get an entire page dedicated to putting on a vacc suit. That’s far from the only time that my eyes glazed over at stuff that wasn’t important that was nonetheless described in excruciating detail.
So, to put it all together, A Long Way Home has a mostly non-existent plot, heavy dependence on coincidence, and a lack of depth in its individual segments. The result is a book that I never really cared about.
(Of all the books I’ve read so far for this Traveller fiction project, this is the only one that I surely would have put down if I hadn’t been planning to review it—though To Dream of Chaos was close—and I almost put it down anyway.)
At the more tactical level of scene description, the author’s writing is often tighter. The battle scenes in particular have some grit and excitement to them. One place where he totally and entirely fails though is in his romance scenes, which are so clichéd that they should be in romance novels.
Here’s a few examples:
“Please Sean, don’t let me be alone tonight,” she murmured. “We don’t know what will happen tomorrow, Sean. Please let me be with you tonight.” (p. 117)
“Don’t say goodbye! NEVER say goodbye! I’ll be here when you get back.”
Then, raising her voice as he moved down the companionway toward the iris valve leading to the ship’s spine. “Don’t die on me Sean. Do you hear me? Don’t die on me, I want you back in one piece!” Her last words were cut off by the closing iris valve. “Farewell, my love,” she whispered, almost to herself.
The rest of the romance is just as saccharine and unbelievable as that and detracts from what little interest the novel otherwise offers.
The only saving grace of A Long Way Home is that through its meandering plot, it wanders across several worlds of The New Era and several of its major political forces. Here Terry McInnes does a great job of detailing these places and entities and really giving them detail and life. At times it detracts from the plot, such as when you get a page diversion on the Solee Empire, who has almost no importance in the book, but other times it’s well integrated into the story.
Overall, I’d give A Long Way Home a low “2” out of “5” for Style and, mainly buoyed by the good detail of The New Era, a “3” out of “5” for Substance.
Applicability to Mongoose Traveller
This book of The New Era has no applicability to Mongoose’s Classic Era. It is, however, a pretty good period piece for The New Era. I feel like it offers both a better overview and more detail than did Paul Brunette’s trilogy, which are the only other New Era books that I’ve reviewed thus far.
However, whether it’s worth trudging through the book to get those details is another question. It’s certainly not unless you are running New Era adventures.
With all that said, perhaps it’s just as well, as this story is about impossible to get hold of nowadays. You could try and track down the first half of it in Traveller Chronicle #11-13, but due to licensing issues, the more recent PDF of the complete story is no longer available.
A Long Way Home is a piece of gaming fiction that shows off the worst excesses of the form. It’s rambling, without focus, and sometimes poorly written.