Gerald Ruhming as a character is cut from the same cloth as real-life serial killers and deviants such as Ted Bundy and Ed Gein. The novel juxtaposes scenes of Ruhming performing medical and psychological torments on a victim with scenes involving two overworked Martian police officers as well as flashback chapters devoted to the horrendous conditions that shaped the Mad Doctor. It is these flashback scenes that draw a parallel to Ed Gein, the Butcher of Plainview. The damaging, destructive relationship Ruhming has with his mother in these scenes follow the classical profile of other serial killers. The fact that Ruhming is of barely average intelligence removes him from becoming a literary killer similar to Dexter and places the Mad Doctor more along the lines of futuristic version of H.H. Holmes.
The choice of setting is also telling. Mars is depicted as an inhospitable planet running on fumes. An overworked and underfunded police force has to fight to gain access to the AI network responsible for notifying them of patterns in criminal activity. Jak Holding does a remarkably good job in depicting bureaucratic malfeasance by putting Mars under the thumb of vindictive, Earth-based monarch who repays the red planet for its uproarious past. A system with such flaws allows a character like Ruhming the ability to experiment on his victims for decades without fear of being caught.
The other characters of note are the two Martian police officers, Dayvid Ghent and Vaughn Coburn, who fill out the stock roles of by-the-book cop and anti-authority cop very well. The characters are given just enough personality for the audience to connect to them but not enough that they begin to outshine Ruhming. With Ghent and Coburn, Jak Holding is able to balance out the parallel horror stories of Ruhming present and past with some much needed brevity and a subplot which I imagine will be explored in future stories involving another serial killer.
The primary purpose of this novella, aside from providing the back story for one of the memorable villains on Simon Vector is to expand the universe of the series. Isolating the story on Mars allows for a look at the bureaucratic facet of this fictional universe and how the politics of the Empire have had a negative impact on the populace. This societal depravation allows the audience to see the cracks forming on the periphery of the human empire. Another aspect of the heavy-handed nature of political power is the Praetorian Cyrus, an imperial agent of this universe’s human senate the fills the role of shadowy government agent with quiet menace. While reading the all-too brief appearance, Cyrus strikes me as consummate and deadly professional, a cross between a Nazi stormtrooper and the Roman soldier class his office’s name borrows.
Sadly, not all of the characters are so memorable. Ruhming’s victim Patricia Sampson is not really given much to do except allow us as the audience a front row seat to the diabolical experiments of the Mad Doctor. Janethea Ruhming, the psychotic, abusive mother that helps to shape Gerald into the misogynistic killer he becomes has only one real character trait, even when she is broken down by her son’s twisted version of affection, and that is shrill destructiveness. They serve their purpose, which is the point, but beyond that they are not really three dimensional characters. The primary focus is on the horror elements, which through Patricia’s point of view are particularly harrowing. While the scenes of violent experimentation are not altogether shocking (provided one has extensive experience with the horror genre in books and film), the creepiness factor is skin-crawlingly effective. Every scene involving Ruhming made me feel as if I were a participant in the activities. This visceral sense of discomfort and complicity is genuine and only hinted at in Simon Vector. One scene in particular, involving a surgical robot Gerald lovingly restores, will have special meaning for anyone who reads the preceding novel.
While Correction does not reinvent the wheel, it is the visceral sense of terror that sets it apart from other books similar to it. And the fact that all of this world-building and character development (not to mention genre-defying plot developments) is contained in less than 100 pages is a testament to the efficiency of the author Jak Holding. If you’re a fan of science-fiction/horror hybrids, Correction is a must purchase, especially if you want an quick afternoon or evening fright.