the Little Red Reviewer

Children No More, by Mark L. Van Name

Posted on: September 27, 2010

Jon always works alone. Correction, Jon and his uberintelligent ship Lobo always come as a team, but after the contract is up, they are gone. Because Jon has a secret. And it’s not that Lobo is far more intelligent than he has any right to be. That’s an entirely different secret.

Jon and Lobo are asked by an old friend Alissa Lim to help infiltrate and liberate a rebel camp on the planet Tumani, currently in the throws of civil war. Tumani might be a backwater now, but it’s location puts it on the border of two colonizing coalitions, and a very wealthy investor has decided this planet needs to be ready when the coalitions realize how important it is. The rebel forces have been ravaging the jungles – burning villages, killing adults and girl children, and taking the boys hostage, addicting them to drugs and turning them into children soldiers. The mission Jon and the team agree to is to liberate a camp of nearly 500 children soldiers, and help rehab the kids until they can be reunited with their families. Or adopted into new families, since their parents are probably dead.

The liberation is a success at first, but suddenly the Tumani government isn’t so sure they want a private group rehabbing these children. Among other complications, the Tumani government is short of funds and shorter on soldiers, and these kids already know how to use a gun. The hardest part of the mission now begins for Jon and Alissa and the rest of the crew – rushing mentally damaged children through what should be a slow and gentle recovery process. Jon’s part of the contract is over, he can leave at any moment, but he decides to stay. A good thing too, as Alissa’s exit strategy struck me as pretty weak.

About three quarters of the way through, I realized Children No More is not a stand alone book, only because Jon says something along the lines of “Time to call Jack”, and I thought to myself “who is Jack?”. Children no More is Van Name’s fourth Jon & Lobo book, but other than the Jack moment, I didn’t feel lost at all, and neither will you.

The narrative is peppered with Jon’s flashbacks of his youth on Pinkleponker, where rampant radiation has caused children to be born with mutations. If the government can use the mutation (such as mind reading abilities, super intelligence, super strength, etc) , they take the child, otherwise the children are left behind. As one of the left behind, Jon finds him self on an island with other unwanted children, and they plan to attack the next government shuttle that arrives. Jon is eventually taken by the government, and what happens to him next leaves him full of the secrets that will shape the rest of his life. Having just watched the first season of Heroes, I wanted to learn more and more about these special children, and what happens to them. But I guess that’s a different Jon & Lobo story.

Van Name’s first message in Children No More is clear: Children should never, ever be used as soldiers. But make sure you pay attention to something else he’s telling you: that should the worst happen, should children be brainwashed to kill, taught to hate, how do you undo what’s been done to them? The kids that Jon works with start to smile, and they start to play, and they start to act like normal kids. But he can see in their eyes that they will never forget. What if their families see that in their eyes too, and don’t want to take their sons back? If their families are dead, who will be willing to take these children?

Children no More is a book you should take the time to read, but I don’t know if I’d describe it as a good book. For me, it was just OK. The pacing felt off, I kept feeling like I was waiting for something to happen. There were some plot points that never got resolved, and a few other oddities that perhaps make perfect sense in the full Jon and Lobo picture.

I’m curious to see if I’m getting the same thing out of this book as other readers did. Also, have you read any other Van Name Jon & Lobo books? I really enjoy Jon and Lobo as characters, and would like to spend more time with them, but I don’t know if I can handle another Children No More.  I’m an easy living pacifist, and just don’t get into military scifi, even if it’s the kind of military scifi reminding us how awful war really is.  I read to escape, not to be reminded of things my fellow humans are doing right under my nose.

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some of the books reviewed here were free ARCs supplied by publishers/authors/other groups. Some of the books here I got from the library. the rest I *gasp!* actually paid for. I'll do my best to let you know what's what.
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