Necrotech by K C Alexander
Angry Robot has had a way of rewarding us readers with the new and the unexpected when it comes to genre fiction, fantasy or science fiction. Books that break current boundaries, set the stratospheric new heights and also define new sub-genres in that process, giving us fiction we didn't know we needed.
Necrotech is the prime shining example of good things to have come out of that process. Rebelliously, ridiculously good things that rank definitely up there among the best. Re-defining the scope and boundaries of cyberpunk science-fiction thrillers. I cannot believe this is a debut. I cannot believe K C Alexander hasn't written a book before. If this is Chuck Wendig writing under a false pen-name, I wouldn't be surprised. But heck no, he;s written a glowing endorsement for every foul word that has fountained from under that pen.
So if you loved Miriam Black series, then you will love Rikko. The female protagonist whom you will choose to love or hate but just cannot get out of your hair. Snarky from deep-inside-to-outer-core. shockingly violent and as free-and-foul-mouthed a person can ever be. She wears her sexuality like a badge, doesn't really distinguish between a girl or a guy but just folds it unto her designs to get to her goals - with a personality that doesn't win points for being polite or even remotely like-able, it's a wonder how Rikko gets called up for jobs on the street.
And what job do you ask? She's a "splatter" specialist in the street. Something like an obstacle remover or assassin, perhaps. In this world, where tech-integration into your body is an essential way of living, religion is just a way to ease up your conscience at the end of bad day and the environmental degradation has forced humanity to seek refuge in Mega-cities, a bad day for Rikko means she ends up with her memory slate wiped clean, watches her lover/girl-friend get turned into a "tech-zombie" (where the tech or AI sneaks over and takes control of the body through her mind bidding her do ghastly stuff!) and her reputation on the street, goes for a toss - she's branded a traitor to the cause of having sold out and abandoned her entire team for money.
Second book that uses amnesia as a plot device in this month that I'm reading - but both couldn't have been any more different. Necrotech is like the eruption of Mt.Fuji, drowning you in scalding lava - and yet forcing you to suck it up and keep moving forward. It's explosive and it's raw. KC's writing is like a solid right-and-left-hook combo that leaves you breathless. Pacy as hell, an engrossing mystery brewing beneath all that blood, gore and curses flying all around that kept me hooked to the end.
The ruthless futuristic world that Rikko is a part of, comes alive in a glorious manner throughout the story - the tech-enhancements, the nano-tech that helps heal your body, the genetic experiments are messy ( So most characters are characters of color - so yeah, a lot of diversity here and the names for me, distinctly sounded like a mangled up version of Indian names. Krouper = Kapoor? Mallik ? Nanjali!) the world itself minus the ozone layer being burned away and prolonged exposure leading to cancer - It's all effortlessly a part of the narrative without standing out and I thought this was absolutely cool.
Coming to the characters, of course Rikko stood out. First person narrative, that allows the readers to get up close and personal insider her flawed and angry head - Rikko is an intense character that will overwhelm you. With her eruption of feelings and anger issues, she's not the most suavest, savviest person in the book (Nope - that title belongs to Mallik 'cool cucumber' Reed!) but that only made her more appealing to me. But along with Rikko, there were other shining stars. Starting with Indigo, the 'linker' on her team, who's supposed to be the 'brains' of all operations and guide the team on their mission as he's plugged into the information highway and accesses every info-bit available about such, wasn't the strongest or the coolest around. But the raw anguish of having lost his sister to the "Necrotech" and his mammoth trust issues with Rikko makes for a brilliant characterization. Mallik Reed, the "corporate" connect for Rikko, who decides to fund-roll this new operation for Rikko to uncover her memories and thus, the mystery of what really happened to her and her girlfriend, now he is a sinister cat alright. Ice-cool temperament and nerves of steel, this guy is someone you don't want on the opposite side of the ring.
This definitely reads like the first part of a series - and therein, lies the only grouch I had. No payoffs at the end of this book for the mystery - Oh we get teasers alright and it only makes life harder. There are dangerous glints that can lead off into the speculation alleys but I will rein it in. It's a book that you should read. Satisfying that massive itch about hard-hitting cyberpunk you never knew you had. Truly an unexpected pleasure this year.