Book Review: When All Seems Lost

William C. Dietz, 2007

Copyright © 2010 by Wil C. Fry. All Rights Reserved.

Published: 2010.02.19

Title: When All Seems Lost
Author: William C. Dietz
Subject: The president of the Confederacy is captured by the enemy and imprisoned
Genre: Fiction / Science Fiction
Publisher: Ace Science Fiction (The Berkley Publishing Group)

After reading this book, I’ve come to the conclusion that all novels in a series should be clearly labeled as such. This one was not.

On the cover, it said, “A novel of the Legion of the Damned,” but this seemed more like a description than an indication that the book was part of a series.

As it turns out, “When All Seems Lost” is the seventh novel in an eight-book series. And, I can assure you, they don’t stand alone. At least this one didn’t. I wasn’t more than a few pages in when I realized I had no idea what was going on. There were places, characters, and organizations that felt very unfamiliar, yet they weren’t described at all.

You’re just supposed to know what they are, because you’ve read the other books.

That was my first problem with this novel and it wasn’t my last.

First, the good stuff.

The story presented is an interesting one. The Confederacy’s president is captured after a space battle, though the alien enemies don’t realize who’s among their numerous prisoners. There’s a race against time as the Confederacy attempts to rescue its president while keeping his identity secret, while the vice president evilly tries to consolidate his power, the alien enemies work on a project that could spell the end of the Confederacy, and a love story is along for the ride.

Descriptions of spacecraft, rooms, and people are relatively detailed and it’s easy to keep track of the main characters, once you get going. The battles are exciting and the outcome, while expected, was still a nice place to arrive.

The problems in the book, however, rose early.

Within a couple of pages, my literary mind began to stumble over the sentence fragments. It’s one thing to say “They destroyed everything. Almost.” That sentence fragment at the end is added for emphasis, and it works. Sometimes.

But Dietz constructs entire paragraphs out of sentence fragments. Here’s an example of a sentence in his book, on page 4: “Which was a tremendous sense of relief and anticipation.”

It’s not a mistake, apparently. It’s Deitz’s style, because he does this throughout the novel.

My next complaint is about things moving in people’s stomachs. What? It started on page 10: “Vanderveen felt something cold trickle into the pit of her stomach.”

I think he meant to say she felt fear, but I didn’t get it at first. I’ve been very afraid at times in my life and never felt anything trickle into my stomach. I shrugged and kept reading, thinking he’d just picked an odd phrase.

But it turns out that Dietz really loves this turn of phrase; it’s used dozens of times in the book, with minor variations. “Vanderveen began to feel a strange emptiness take over her stomach.” And so on.

There are also italics in odd places, in many cases unnecessary. “There were screams, interspersed by more gunfire...” And: “Cassidy screamed as another shot rang out.” Page after page, I couldn’t figure it out.

Dietz also apparently doesn’t like referring to characters by their names, or gets bored with them. Vanderveen, arguably the main character, is consistently referred to as “the diplomat,” though her job type is never important to the story. And another main character, Santana, is referred to repeatedly as “the legionnaire,” even when he’s in the presence of other legionnaires. It gets confusing.

It’s one thing if you have a character who’s only in the book for a few seconds, and you don’t want to invent another name. Just call him “the store clerk.” That’s fine. But Dietz has names for all his characters; he just doesn’t want to use them.

One thing I did like about his writing style was his apparent familiarity with military terms. The author was a military medic according to the bio on his website, so maybe that explains it. It gets tiring to read a novel when specific jargon is messed up. Dietz gets it right.


The novel was good enough that I’m tempted to find the first book in the series and start from there. But as a book by itself, it’s a little weak.

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