Once Humans: Vol. 2 of the Daimones Trilogy by Massimo Marino

This book had an interesting premise, but a poor English translation completely gutted it. The result was a linguistic jumble that was a chore rather than a pleasure to read through. I expect the author is a far better writer than this book indicates, but all I have to work with is the translation that is in front of me. Were it not for the translation, this book could have been an interesting take on how galactic society could view and deal with the human race.

Besides the translation, there are three major issues with this novel. First, the pacing is more of a rambling internal monologue than it is a proper story. Second, the characters are neither interesting nor engaging. Third, the underlying story is presented as something far more complicated than it actually is.

First, the pacing. The book veers between Dan’s personal reflections, his relationship with his family, and the larger events going on in the world. This isn’t a problem if done well, but here it turns into a rambling mess. It felt like the author didn’t know what he wanted this book to be about, so he tried to throw everything in instead of drilling down to the essentials.

The book drug, it repeatedly and inelegantly jumped between different themes, and the tone and direction of the plot abruptly changed several times. It was a fight to read more than five pages at a time.

Second, the characters. Dan can read other people’s emotions, so most of his interactions with other people don’t involve careful observation but rather a news ticker of what each individual feels at any given time. This sucks the passion and mystery out of the characters and transforms them into sterile unites of plot. It’s always a bad idea as a writer to explicitly tell the reader what every single character feels. You can do it here and there, but taken too far, it sucks the joy out of finding out about the characters.

Worse, there’s little to Dan that makes him interesting, which is a problem given he’s the only perspective character in the book. He cries, he rages, he broods, but he does all of this in rambling prose that leaves nothing to the imagination. No matter how many times the author told me that Dan cared for his family and friends, no matter how many times he cried over a loss, I couldn’t bring myself to care. When Dan took a passionate stand to save someone he loved, it impacted me less than ordering a bacon cheeseburger.

To be fair, I love bacon cheeseburgers, but an airport lunch shouldn’t have more emotional resonance than a novel in which the main character’s wife gets a severe brain injury and nearly dies.

I suspect some of the problems stem from the atrocious translation, but the author has a tendency to flatly announce how a character feels. You can write a character crying as much as you want, but if you can’t provoke a sense of sympathy or empathy in the reader, said tears are pointless. Also, characters abruptly shift moods as if the author couldn’t see past the paragraph he was writing to the chapter, or even the page, as a whole.

Third, the story presents itself as full of twists in turns, but at its heart it’s about as simple as these things come. A bunch of aliens wipe out most of humanity for our own good, genetically modify a few human beings to be the seeds of a new species/golden era, etc. The big twist: maybe something about the genocide of an entire species wasn’t done on the level. That’s pretty much it. It gets a little clearer towards the end of the book, but not by much.

Worse, there’s Dan, a character that suffers from a Chosen One complex. By that, I mean the only reason things seem to happen to him is because they’re supposed to, not because of any skill or intelligence on his part. He’s special. About the only trait he has the stands out is that he’s empathetic, and that doesn’t really count because he can literally use space-powers to read people’s emotional states.

At the end of the day, I can’t say how good this book is in its native language because I don’t speak it and was sent an English translation of the text. But based on that translation, there’s nothing here to recommend to any but the most devoted fan of the author’s previous work. I give it a 1/5.

You can take a gander at this book, or the others in the series, at Amazon here.