Monday, April 8, 2013

Review of Miscalculation

     MISCALCULATION: A Noir Tale of Skull Morgan (SIMON VECTOR)

     One of the benefits of the science fiction genre is the flexibility it provides a writer. A setting involving advanced technology and progressive human evolution allows a storyteller the ability to incorporate other genre motifs with little difficulty. A splendid example is the latest Entrypoint novella from JAK Holding entitled Miscalculation. Holding infuses this story in the Simon Vector universe with shady, corrupt characters and crime noir circumstances which turns it into a highly engaging sci-fi tale.
     Unlike the previous Entrypoint novellas (which examined Mars in this universe’s version of a Human-run Imperial government), this novella places the action on a dystopian Earth. The political corruption shown in previous stories (particularly the aptly-titled Corruption) is merely a symptom of a much deeper, systemic problem. Earth is a dilapidated, acid-rain soaked megalopolis; a place of slums and crime lords (who sometimes wear Imperial badges). One striking scene depicts a mutated animal scurrying about while dissolving from exposure to the ever-present acid rain. The setting reminds me of the best parts of the film Blade Runner and its metropolitan environment, drawing the reader into a world where the moral and political decay is so pervasive no one bothers to fight it and is reflected in the decrepit Detroit where the action takes place.
     This story follows the origins of another of Alpha Draconis’ rogue’s gallery: Skull Morgan. When he is introduced in Simon Vector, he is an oddity in a prison primarily populated with hyper-violent serial killers and rapists. With his brain encased in transparent crystalflex, Morgan represents a seamless synthesis between man and machine. Miscalculation goes one step further; revealing a distant, analytically-gifted mind that stands incredibly close to machine-like rather than human. Morgan possesses an aloof personality but not in the flighty, effervescent sense. This man is driven to compute life’s variables in pain-staking detail and with an eidectic memory (think Moriarty with cybernetics). Like many who possess exceptional intelligence and/or mental faculties in literature, Morgan stands above and sneers down at everyone else.
     Morgan operates as a criminal mastermind, the “man with a plan” in the crime noir genre. And no good noir tale would be complete without a bent cop, a role suited for Imperial Marshal Ellen Trame. Trame should be familiar as one of the antagonists of Corruption, serving in that story as a physical and psychological foil for Jayson Boothe. This novella takes place an indeterminate amount of time after the events of Corruption. Trame is a little worse for wear from her last escapade but she still possesses a violent streak as large as her chemically-enhanced body. Marshals in this world are given steroids and growth hormones, generally turning them into towering hunks of muscle with barely-contained tempers. Trame serves as the muscle to Morgan’s brains and reading these two hardened criminals bicker is a highlight of the novella.
     The rest of the cast fill their roles well but this is all Morgan’s show. Reading Morgan play everyone step by step (and almost be a step or two ahead) is thoroughly enjoyable. The book is a quick read and can be finished in one sitting, allowing one to reread the story and pick up any details that may have been missed. Despite being a criminal, Morgan is an engaging rogue, capable of drawing in the audience and keeping their attention while they wonder if he will succeed or not. I refuse to spoil the ending but it has a classic noir twist finish that is both appropriate to the genre and fulfilling from a storytelling perspective.
     The Entrypoint novellas have allowed JAK Holding to expand the universe first introduced with bloody aplomb in Simon Vector. Each successive story brings depth and nuance that future entries in the series will no doubt touch on. The world-building has been gradual, with each book adding a few layers here and there. Story seeds that pay off in Simon Vector are populated through the novellas. Consider them Easter eggs for those enjoy more serialized storytelling. These stories are stand-alone (as well as being part of a narrative whole), so one can read all four or just one and still get a classic sci-fi experience. By combining each novella with a different genre, JAK Holding has allowed their audience maximum accessibility to the universe. If someone enjoys horror, western, or crime noir (the descriptors for each of the Entrypoint novellas), one has access to an appropriate story that is deeply engaging. Check out Miscalculation if you’re a fan of crime fiction with a good sci-fi base. 

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