The Rookie by Scott Sigler
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Football, aliens, smugglers, mob bosses- did I mention aliens? Set in the future, The Rookie is the story of Quentin Barnes, a Human star quarterback in what is probably akin to the minor leagues we know now. But Quentin wants to play in the big leagues. He has talent, speed, intelligence, and he knows the game. The catch? In the GFL, he will be playing with and against several alien races. Races he has been taught all his life are spawns of Satan, to be hated and destroyed. Add to that the aliens blinding speed, ability to jump 25+ feet in the air, and sheer size and weight, and you've got a whole different league, brother.
Quentin gets his chance to play for a GFL team, and things don't start out well. Quentin is used to being the star, the one in charge, and being second string doesn't sit well. Add to that his background of religious hatred and distrust of the alien races, and his career seems doomed from the start. When the starting quarterback gets injured in an altecation with the enforcers for the crime boss he is supposed to be working for, Quentin gets his chance. What he does with it is the main story of the book.
The football is quite well done in this book. I've been a football fan for a long, long time, and Sigler gets it right. It couldn't have been an easy task to keep the game intact, while adding alien races with superhuman athletic abilities into the mix. If you don't know football, you probably won't fully understand the game descriptions, but it isn't necessary to know what an I formation is, or where the tailback position lines up, to follow the story. It helps, of course, but you can follow the action without in depth knowledge. If you do know the game, you'll enjoy reading the play by play action from Quentin's viewpoint. I did find the pages of game stats after each one a bit tedious and ended up skimming most of them.
The whole of the story is told from Quentin's point of view. We see him start as a cocky, smart-ass kid, convinced of his talent, only to be shot down, again and again. It takes a long time for Quentin to see his role on the field and off, and to set aside ingrained prejudices and conceits to concentrate on what matters most: winning the game. In some ways, this is a coming of age story. Quentin is nineteen at the start of the book, and he is as full of himself as any nineteen year old who has had things relatively easy. And he is as blind to his failings as anyone his age can be. It's the gradual realization that he is the one who has to change that makes him a viable character. The change is not a sudden epiphany of revelation, however. It's slow and difficult for Quentin to own up to. There are moments of insight, and failures, and times when he takes steps backwards. It all adds to his human-ness, and rounds him out as a character.
The rest of the characters are not quite as well drawn as Quentin, but they are a good supporting cast: Don Pine, the first string quarterback who has gambling debts and gets himself in real trouble because of them, the female alien receivers who take their quarterbacks so seriously, it's part of their religion, and the team owners, coaches, and other players.
World building is well done. There are huge orbiting space station/cities, team busses that are essentially giant spaceships complete with practice fields, small, flying aliens who have conquered most of the known races and act as overlords, a mob-like system of smuggling and other illegal actvities that has hooks in the GFl, and more.
The Rookie was an enjoyable book. It reads fairly quickly, and kept me turning the pages. Footbal fans who can entertain the idea of a futuristic game with aliens as team members, and fans of good science fiction will both enjoy The Rookie. If you happen to be both, you really want to read this one.
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