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Not As Expected

By:David Layton, Los Angeles, United States
Date:Monday 9 March 2020
Rating:   8

I have a feeling that The War Master second set is going to divide listeners. It is tough to assess. Instead of four independent but loosely connected stories, this set is one story divided into four chapters, almost an audio novel. The Time War is a distant background, and all the story takes place around the colony world of Callous. The colony is centered around a mine, operated by the colony founder, Elliot King. They are supposed to be mining a substance called sueño (that's Spanish for "dream" if you don't get it). This substance is in high demand, although it is not really explained why, but almost impossible to mine because it has telepathic properties that drive people mad. Elliot King struggles to get anything out of the mine, suffering setback after setback, while trying to fend off greedy governor Teremon, who runs a worldwide protection racket and demands ever-increasing fees. Plus, Elliot is constantly pestered by a strange ood with an old-fashioned phone who keeps telling him that there is a call for him. After Elliot's death, his estranged daughter Sarah, and her wife, space pilot Martine, take over and try to make the mine a going entity. They suffer many of the same problems that Elliot had, but are eventually seemingly rescued by a kindly if peculiar old man named Orman (get it, ore man?). But, once Sarah has her lucky strike, things go downhill in a hurry.

One can see that almost none of the focus is on The Master. Whatever his plan is, it is slow to develop, taking over ten years to happen. He is very much in the background for this, hardly appearing at all in parts 1 and 3, and only really significant in about half of part 4. The focus is really on the colony and the Kings. There is very little adventure or danger and most the conflict is person against person. The soundtrack music emphasizes this aspect by being mostly low-key piano rather than big orchestration.

All this leaves a listener with a puzzle. On the one hand, the story is very well executed and sticks to a consistent tone right down to the bitter end (and it is very bitter indeed). On the other hand, it does not really need The Master in the plot, which is shown by the fact that he is in less than half of the whole thing. So, someone expecting a Master story may be right to feel a bit disappointed when The Master of Callous isn't really much of a Master story. I am giving the benefit of charity on the side of the production, which is very well written and well acted.

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