They’re out of control, in their own way – and they’re humanity’s last hope.
DISCLAIMER: I received this title for free in exchange for an unbiased review. This book was given to me for free at my request and I provided this voluntary review.
WARNING: This review contains mild spoilers.
I am not the target audience for this novel. I failed to do my due diligence, so enamored by the first rate world-building, and wound up with a romance. Because I requested this novel I feel obligated to review it, but take the review with a grain of salt. Having said that, there is a lot to like in it.
Did I mention the world-building is first rate? Oh, my goodness! The setting has enormous promise. In 2155, after unspecified Middle Eastern conflicts, the United States government collapses after the final straw of genetically tailored medicines splits the country into eight “grids”. This is “The Dissolution” – when government gridlock and repeated shutdowns of increasing duration led to riots that culminated in the dissolution of the United States.
During this “now” there seven Corptocracies, with citizens as employees, and a resistance. The Wild Cards are part of this rather well organized resistance, which made up of “Dusters” who are working to bring back a democratic type of government. And, I love this part – Dusters are called so because they are in the grid none of the corporations want – a new age dust bowl. If you “dusted”, you fled the corptocracies and went into the badlands.
The beauty of this story telling is all the above observations are gathered from hints in reports, off-hand conversations, even children’s songs. The corporations have a “Citizens Standing Score” and immediately I think “credit score!” There are armed drones (Vipers), huge, Amazonian warehouses, the ruling elite, the castoff undesirables; everything you need for a cyberpunk dystopia, all wrapped in a solid narrative flow – no obvious or distracting infodumps. There may be some, but I didn’t notice.
The audio is first rate! Excellent narration and production values, no background hum, no mic pops, no repeated lines, no uneven editing, or change in volume levels. Each character has a distinct and recognizable voice. Kirt Graves does an excellent job and I’m envious of his ability.
With all of this, why didn’t I like it? Well, it is a romance. After talking about this with a couple of my peers who regularly read the genre, they took a peek and loved it. There were some events that presented as logical disconnects for me, the biggest being Aiden, our protagonist, is not motivated to rehabilitate a formerly elite group, but just to hang on for a month and claim the commander level benefits. That stuck in my craw. There is also a disproportionate amount of assumed privacy, which is weird not just because this is a dystopia, but it’s on a military base, where everybody knows everyone else’s business, because that’s how the unit survives.
Every 3rd page, Aiden has to remind himself, “I’m the commander”. Rank notwithstanding, clearly he isn’t. And the Wild Cards know it. This leads to bullying, mental & physical, being passed off as teasing and presents like CW drama.
With the exception of one character, Kevin, there are no nice people, only asses, and even Kevin has moments. He wears glasses as “protest” against genetic purity, yet his “creamy,” fair skin secretes zinc oxide. Skin is creamy due to zinc oxide secretion, but he has a problem with blushing. How is he blushing if his cells secreted an opaque substance?
Some other disconnects:
Hiding out in the desert, underneath “slick tarps” and worried about presenting a minimal EM-footprint, they spend their time discussing what television programs they should pirate and watch.
The assumption that scavengers living hand to mouth in the desert are somehow technologically superior to and can regularly raid with impunity corporations whose profit margins depend upon security.
Aden presents as functionally illiterate and with no desire to lead, yet is the commander. He comes off as a dummy, with Kevin clearly the intellectual superior. It gives rise to uncomfortable speculation; is the resistance in the desert based on the commissar model, where people are promoted because of who they know rather than on any merit?
This novel is also an exploration of gender identity, which I found interesting, much more so than the romance element. There is an excellent podcast with the authors at the Amphibian Press site: “Hope and Quiet Activism in a Dark Future with O. E. Tearmann” – Episode 39.