Mary Sue with an Excuse?

The gun says “tough” while the tight tank top says “we need to make it very clear there’s a female lead.”

When Borders went out of business, I made like a good little vulture and bought some cheap books.  I had to confess to being more willing to buy books based on eye candy when I could get them for a quarter of their regular price.  I finally started reading one of those books, Jean Johnson’s A Soldier’s Duty (the first in the “Theirs Not to Reason Why” series, because it’s just impossible for a sci-fi or fantasy writer to not do a series these days.)

I’m halfway through the book and I must confess that I kind of like it.  It’s quick, relatively mindless and inoffensive reading (as opposed to that Warhammer 40,000 book I read, where I had the distinct impression the writer was beating me over the head with a typewriter shouting “I WILL WASTE YOUR FUCKING TIME AND THERE’S NOTHING YOU CAN DO ABOUT IT!!!!!”).  However something struck me about the work, fairly early on, but I’ve managed to continue with the book regardless.  The main character, a young woman named Ia (who, by the way, breaks Rule 34 … not that I check these things) is one of the most flagrant examples of a Mary Sue that I’ve ever seen.  She knows how to do everything, she can sing perfectly, she’s exotically attractive (dark skin, white hair, described as being muscular but never unappealing so,) and it’s basically two hundred pages so far of characters remarking about how amazingly amazing she is.  She even has to hold back on her amazing-ness so as to not make people suspicious of her.

Suspicious of what?

Well, therein lies the maddening genius of the author.  She’s stuck the reader with one of the most obnoxiously trite heroes ever seen in science fiction, but she has a reason. You see, the character of Ia has some vaguely explained ability to see into probable futures and experience things that way.  So she’s so darned good at everything because she’s preemptively practiced everything she has to do. It may not be the best excuse for a Mary Sue in history, but it is an excuse, and since some time has actually been spent exploring how Ia came to possess this power it’s much more than simple hand waving.

So I’ve stuck with the book.  Even after someone mentioned a “prophecy” (which Ia hints she plants in the past after obtaining access to time travel technology in her future so that the prophecy can help her out) I stuck with the book because because the author actually managed to build up some goodwill with me and assure me she has some idea what she’s doing.

Now there’s the problem that Jean Johnson is apparently best known as a romance novel writer (at least, that’s the impression I got from the blurbs, praise for her previous works, at the start of the book.)  I hope this novel doesn’t go down that route.

So can something that should on the face seem to set off signal flares that a book will be bad (e.g., Mary Sue & prophecies) be saved?  How much effort does an author have to make to polish a turd?  Is just some acknowledgement that effort needs to be made to make the work palatable enough or should an author really justify a bad idea?


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