Imagine a couple of three-year-olds playing with their action figures: chasing and shooting and yelling at each other. Good. Now imagine them using a time machine in their disjointed, barely coherent, poorly scripted story as they chase one another around the house. If you do that, you’ll have a fairly good idea of what “Alternate” by Ernie Luis is like.

“Alternate” was a serialized Kindle book, written in four installments, presumably without any idea where it was going to end up. (See also: Lost – the TV show that was supposed to last only six episodes but went on for six seasons and ended in a bizarre, mind-twisting example of grown men writing themselves into a corner.) Mind you, sometimes serialized Kindle novels work – Hugh Howey’s Wool is a good example of that.

The concept behind the book (grandly entitled “omnibus”) is pretty interesting: a society of assassins that go back in time to kill their victims, and who someday might be able to go back and rescue the people from their own past. Think of it as a combination of “Looper” and “Wanted.”

Perhaps, in the right hands, with proper editing and proofreading, the book could have been great. Instead, it ended up poorly written and filled with plot holes: a frail sixteen-year-old girl armed with a knife is somehow able to keep hundreds of people (presumably armed with guns) under her control; the book’s villain leaves a whistleblower alone inside his unlocked office, with a loaded gun and an unlocked computer terminal that contains all the dirty secrets, conveniently written down and explained in great detail. Supposedly efficient assassins turns out to be horribly traumatized alcoholics with emotional issues that would put a typical 14-year-old emo to shame. The list goes on and on…

Some self-published Kindle books turn out perfect: look no further than Andy Weir and “The Martian.” “The Alternate,” on the other hand, is a perfect example why sometimes going the traditional route may be a good idea.

I’m giving this book two stars instead of one because the author did a fairly good job describing the emotional pain of the protagonist – a man who lost his 8-year-old daughter and would do anything to get her back. Too bad those raw emotional moments are grossly outnumbered by all the graphic “torture porn” scenes of people mutilating their doomed enemies just for the fun of it, to indulge some basic, id-driven, caveman instinct that, once again, is not unlike what you’d see if you watch three-year-olds play with their toys.

Final score: two out of five stars

Disclaimer: I received a copy of the book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.