Sunday, September 30, 2012

Review of Corruption

     CORRUPTION: A Marshal Boothe Tale of Justice (SIMON VECTOR)

     There are few things as terrifying as a truly just man. The “White Hat” of literature is an old staple, a good man fighting against a bankrupt world. In the latest Entrypoint novella Corruption (part of the Simon Vector universe), the audience is given a closer glimpse into the violent, extortionate setting of this sci-fi universe. While the plot of the story is exceedingly familiar, the characters within the book make notable what could have been a merely rote storytelling experience.

     As mentioned above, the characters are the key to any given story. In this novella, the audience is given access to another of the principal prisoners of the Alpha Draconis prison which served as the setting of the original novel Simon Vector. The character presented here is Jayson Boothe, seen briefly in the novella Correction as admitting to be a serial killer with the moniker “The Asteroid Killer”. The first chapter establishes the principal character swiftly, indicating both Boothe’s inherent nobility and his capacity for extreme violence. As an Imperial Marshal of the Earth empire, Boothe is a modified crime-fighter, given hormonal and training enhancements that make him a mountain of corded flesh and chemically-induced bouts of seething rage. While Boothe is the “white hat” character, he is not a perfect character. He’s gruff, sometimes sanctimonious, yet still principled and empathetic (in the sense that it’s easy for the audience to get behind him).
     The other character of note is a female Marshal known as Trame, a hulking, bruiser of a woman without any of the ethical and moral ideas Boothe holds onto. Trame is meant solely as a foil (and potential future antagonist) to show that Boothe is an oddity in the Vector universe. When someone who represents the law is corrupt, what does this say about the law itself? Through Trame and the character Cyrus the Praetorian (a single scene character from Correction that is given a much larger role in this story), the audience is given a glimpse into the stagnant, seedy underbelly of the Empire’s power structure. A bent cop is common-place and not usually indicative of a corrupt system. But a senatorial guard, genetically-altered and indoctrinated into possessing sociopathic traits, speaks volumes about the fundamental lack of humanity in this setting’s society. One has to wonder if the ultimate villains of the Simon Vector universe, the organic-machine necroids and the Vendak, are really the only monsters in the universe.
     Such philosophical musings are at the core of the storytelling for this series but they are not described or debated by the characters in such terms. This installment is meant clearly as a combination of sci-fi and western tropes, particularly the lone lawman trying to tame the badlands of the frontier. Like Correction, JAK Holding puts the action on Mars, which is described as little more than a backwater colony world, despite its close proximity to Earth. Boothe remarks repeatedly that there is very little difference between Mars and the asteroid colonies elsewhere in the Solar system, giving the audience a look into the decaying nature of humanity. Also, like Correction, the plot revolves around a serial killer, the Asteroid Killer that Boothe claimed to be in the first novella.
     While the plot is executed well and moves at a brisk pace, it did feel like there were no surprises along the way. A reader will almost see events occurring before they happen in the book, even without paying close attention to the details. My main praise for this novella is further expanding the setting in a much-needed direction. While Correction gave the audience insight into the common denizens of the universe (and the nightmarish people that sometimes make up their ranks), Corruption delves into the echelons of power and the consequences that come from having unlimited power. For a character such as Cyrus, there is no joy in his work, only precision and fealty to one’s orders, making him little better than an automaton with a difference engine for a brain. It is easy to see JAK Holding’s commentary that power calls to those who are easily corruptible and that it often creates its own polluted offspring (such as Cyrus, Trame, and the Asteroid Killer).
     The Simon Vector series has so far proven to be a well-written romp through established science-fiction storytelling markers. It’s been observed before by such people as Joseph Campbell that there are only a finite number of stories in the world and that we are simply retelling them in different ways. This is true of JAK Holding’s work in this series, which delineates a brutal, savage universe that may not really be worth saving. This question of worth is central to Corruption and it is not an easy question to ask or to answer. For myself, I look forward to seeing what answers, if any, are provided in future installments. If you’ve read the prior two books in the series, I highly recommend picking up this one as well, especially if you enjoy a heroic story with a dollop of horror mixed in.  

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