K.L. Neidecker over at The Blaagh
gives a stunning review of Michael R. Fletcher’s 88.
Time for some SF goodness.
My day-job has me doing a lot of two things: Driving, and running away from dogs loosed on me after cutting someones cable off.
Good cardio, that second bit.
While driving, I love to listen to podcasts via my Android phone. I have no choice, as my area has only three types of radio stations: Classic rock (not bad, but just how many times can you hear the same ten songs), Country, or Country. Yes, County is listed twice for a reason.
I consume more podcasts in a week than most people do in a month. I hope they aren’t fattening.
Anyway, while enjoying an episode of the excellent “Get Published” podcast, which can be found at Irreverent Muse
, I heard an interview with one Michael R Fletcher
This interview revolved around his upcoming, debut novel “88″.
One thing he said really caught my attention; Some blogs and book review sites were turning their noses up at novels published by the smaller houses.
I hadn’t thought of that.
You think, “Hey, when this gets published, it’s published, right?”
Then you just have to get your masterpiece into the hungry hands of reviewers and bloggers, right?
Well, it seems some folks, obviously behind the times, still view a novel to only be worth a damn if published by one of the big houses.
That’s pretty damn snobbish.
I have been called a lot of things in my life, but a snob is not one of them.
And so I hit the Irreverent Muse
site, clicked over to Michael R Fletcher’s page, and contacted him for a review copy of his novel.
Read on, dear reader, and let me tell you a (spoiler free) tale of a book called “88″.
Virtual worlds, crime cartels, robot fights and a hint-o-dystopia? Where do I sign up?
First and foremost, here is the blurb, hot from the Amazon entry for “88″.
The dream of Artificial Intelligence is dead and the human mind is now the ultimate processing machine. Demand is high, but few are willing to sacrifice their lives to become computers. Black-market crèches, struggling to meet the ever-increasing demand, deal in the harvested brains of stolen children. But there is a digital snake in that fractally modelled garden; some brains make better computers than others. 88, a brilliant autistic girl, has been genetically engineered and raised from birth to serve one purpose: become a human computer. Plagued by memories of a mother she never knew and a desire for freedom she barely understands, she sets herself against those who would be her masters. Unfortunately for 88, the Cuntrera-Caruana Mafia clan have other plans for her. Griffin Dickinson, a Special Investigator for the North American Trade Union, has been tasked with shutting down the black market crèches. Joined by Nadia, a state-sanctioned reporter and Abdul, the depressed ghost of a dead Marine inhabiting a combat chassis, Griffin is drawn deep into the shady underbelly of the brain trade. Every lead brings him one step closer to an age-old truth: corruption runs deep. An army of dead children, brainwashed for loyalty and housed in state of the art military chassis, stand between Griffin and the answers he seeks. But one in particular, Archaeidae, a 14-year old Mafia assassin obsessed with Miyamoto Musashi, Sun Tzu, and Machiavelli, is truly worthy of fear. Archaeidae is the period at the end of a death sentence.
Should I just end this post here? I mean, just read that description. My blood-sugar spikes just eyeing all those sweet bits of SFgoodness.
Well, let’s see if the novel is as good as the blurb.
If there is one word that could describe this book, it’s “tight”.
The prose is sharp, descriptive where needed, terse and accurate during action (of which there is plenty), full of life during dialog.
No doubt due to both the talent of Michael R Fletcher and the hard work put in by folks at Five Rivers Chapmanry, the publisher of “88″, this novel comes off as a fully professional piece of writing through and through. No half-assed writing here, no indication this is a debut novel anywhere in sight.
88, ignoring the relentless emptiness in her belly, studied the cracks in the walls and floor. The cracks were a system, a coded message from the universe, pregnant with information and sly with subtle hints. She leaned forward, face close to the floor as she stared at the microscopic clefts and crevices in the dirty stone. They spoke to her, revealing all they could of the reality beyond.
Not once did I feel this was anything less than a full-fledged novel written by an author who knows his stuff and cared for by a publisher that gives a damn.
Now let’s talk concepts.
There is a whole lot going on in “88″. More than once, I found myself in awe of the concepts introduced in this novel.
As cyberpunk did in the dawn of home computing, this novel takes technology found around us today and postulates what may be in the near future. The world is networked, countries are basically outmoded ideas replaced by trade unions similar to what the EU is now. Conflicts tend to be internal rebellions due to food shortages, rather than wars between countries.
A.I. is a waste of time due to technology that allows the entire personalities and thought processes of individuals to be ‘scanned’ and used as a computer. Want to live forever? Just sign up with your government and let them scan you. The cost? Oh, you just have to work for them for a while. A few decades or so. No biggy. Oh, and scans don’t have the same rights as humans. Oh, and you have to work off the cost of the procedure and the gear you are riding around in.
What stresses would fall upon once living people as they found themselves more like a CPU than a human? What would combat be like if human brains directly controlled machines of war? How would the world change if you could live forever, and maybe regret your choice to do so?
Abdul, though he was aware of the pressure of her fingers and able to measure the temperature of her skin, couldn’t actually feel the touch. Just moments ago he was dreaming of human contact and here it was, another moment stolen. Abdul added it to the list of hurts.
Concepts are worth little without plot to glue them together, so let’s talk story now.
The plot is thick and interesting. I found myself impressed with the deft handling of all the plot-lines in “88″.
We follow the small autistic girl, known only by the number 88, as she is used by unscrupulous individuals in the illegal trade of scanned minds. Without spoiling anything, let me just say these individuals may have gotten a little more than they bargained for with this potent mind.
We ride along with Griffin Dickinson, an agent tasked with shutting down these illegal mind-thefts, as he is joined by a journalist and an (awesome) war machine piloted by a scanned Marine. This is a complex set of events with very likable characters, and raises some real questions about the ethics of this scanning technology.
We watch as a powerful individual has himself scanned and moves forward with an insane plan to reinvent the human race. This is another interesting thread in the plot, and what this individual does effects all the other characters in interesting ways.
We run behind Archaeidae, a powerful assassin war-machine piloted by a child’s scanned mind, as he tries to please his masters, slashing his way through foes.
Yet, with all of this going one, with multiple characters doing diverse actions, sometimes half a world away from each other, I found the story to be eminently understandable.
There were times when, due to time constraints, I was unable to read any of the novel for a week. But when I picked up my Kindle again, I was able to slide back into the story in only a moment.
That, dear reader, is the sign of a well told tale.
“88″ came out of nowhere for me. I took a chance and contacted an author about a debut novel that sounded interesting. And I am glad I did.
Michael R Fletcher weaves a brilliant tapestry in “88″, one with overlapping threads of dystopia, high-tech concepts, human rights, and action.
The plot is punchy, and action full of motion and detail, and the characters are unique and well fleshed out. Get it, read it, love it!
Sounds great! Where can I find this book?