Brother John, by Rutledge Etheridge

Brother John, by Rutledge Etheridge book coverGenre: Science Fiction
Publisher: Ace
Published: 2001
Reviewer Rating: three stars
Book Review by David L. Felts

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Except for a few reviews added when the site first launched, I’ve avoided doing more. That’s because I didn’t want SFReader to get the reputation of being “Dave’s Book Reviews” and instead wanted to bring a variety of tastes and preferences to the mix. I’ve decided that I will add reviews, but not reviews of books that are submitted to SFReader. My reviews will usually be of books I’ve picked up on my own NOT book submitted for review. It’s a compromise that satisfies my sense of propriety.

Brother John is a lean offering, coming in at 201 pages, maybe 80,000 words; this is about 2/3rds the size of the average science fiction book on the shelves today. As such, it’s a quick and easy read. I think I went through it in three days of occasional reading (including beach time – yep, living in Florida is nice). It’s a story along the same lines of the Matador books by Steve Perry or the Steven Barnes Firedance series, basically being about men and woman of extraordinary physical ability becoming masters of hand-to-hand combat and beating each other (and others) up.

Brother John is a giant, topping the scales at almost 8 feet tall and 500 pounds. Throughout his life he has constantly had to defend himself from others who wanted to prove they could take him. When he’s set up in a match against a Duelist, Etheridge’s version of the traveling king-fu master, he makes such an impression the the Duelist tells him about tryouts to get into one of the prestigious dueling academies. Years later, Brother John has finally made his way there and he and thousands of others compete for the few hundred slots to the academies.

Thin on plot, Etheridge nevertheless manages to present an enjoyable read. Don’t look to deeply however, because there’s nothing there. This is adventure fiction, pure and simply, a martial arts tale set in outer space. There’s nothing integral to the story that makes this science fiction; it could take place anywhere at any time, substitute wagons for spaceships and towns for planets and it would be a Western. The characters are distinct, however, and it’s fun reading about people with almost superhuman abilities–almost like wish fulfillment. Almost every man (and maybe some women) up until the realization of mortality sets in around age 25 or 30, thinks that with just the right training he or she could be the baddest bad-ass on the planet and kick serious kung-fu butt. In Brother John we get to read about a bunch of people that are making this a reality.

If you like action adventure, if you’ve ever thought you could be a kung-fu bad-ass, if you read Perry or Barnes and enjoyed it, you’ll enjoy this too. If you’re looking for more cerebral stories, steer far clear; trying to remember where you left the book is the most work your brain is going to do here.

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