The Furies, by Mark Alpert

The Furies, by Mark Alpert
Publisher: Thomas Dunne Books
320 pages, Kindle Edition
Published April 2014
Source: NetGalley

Another novel that I expected to primarily be a fantasy with some science fiction aspects, it instead is a straight up thriller adventure, a spy story built around a unique premise. The premise of “The Furies” is clever and interesting. The title does not refer to figures of Greek myth, but rather to a family. The idea is that in the distant human past, a group of individuals evolved incredible abilities that augmented intelligence and lifespan. These newly evolved humans used their abilities to try to better the species. But throughout history they were treated as suspect and dangerous – the tales of witches – and were subjected to persecution, leading them to seclude themselves as a secretive society in the wilderness of the New World. Intelligence and longevity bring great strengths to their community. There is just one problem: the evolved abilities are sex-linked. With two X chromosomes, only females benefit. The Y chromosome of males robs the men of the community from the same traits the women enjoy.

While I really enjoyed the premise behind this story, the execution beyond that premise was not stellar. As a simple action story the novel remains entertaining, but also fairly predictable once the facts behind the community begin to be revealed to the reader and protagonist. The most frustrating part of the novel, however, is the science. The science behind the premise is technically correct as explained. As the author is a writer for Scientific American, this isn’t surprising. The problem is that the science is used to advance parts of the plot that stretch disbelief far beyond the points of reasonable suspension. Science fiction works when the explanation behind some fictional phenomena is both accurate and reasonably believable, even if stretched beyond or current understandings of the universe a bit (like interstellar travel for instance).

A lot of the biology and biochemistry of this novel seemed absurd, from the damage that could occur due to female’s cells having two fully expressed X chromosomes, to the ‘catalyst’ that is used to activate abilities in men. Somehow it also works on other species quite easily (and rapidly!). Also, an injection into a human, or in an entire river will affect organisms the same way. Dilution? That is some potent stuff.

If you don’t really know much about biochemistry and biology and want an interesting action novel that puts a unique explanatory spin on witch persecutions in history then this would be a perfectly entertaining light read.

Three Stars out of Five

The Darwin Elevator, by Jason M. Hough

The Darwin Elevator, by Jason M. Hough
(Dire Earth Cycle Book 1)
Publisher: Del Rey
ISBN: 0345537122
472 pages, paperback
Published July 2013
Source: Goodreads First-Reads

“The Darwin Elevator” is an entertaining, action-filled read that I enjoyed enough for me to want to find the follow-up volumes to see how the story continues. It has some good qualities going for it, including tight writing and memorable characters given enough complexity to draw them beyond indistinguishable cardboard people who can easily populate this kind of popcorn novel.

I was wary of a plot that sounded like it involved zombies, but was relieved that the zombie-like aspect was kept to a minimal. Nonetheless I didn’t feel like that aspect needed to be present at all, seemingly just there to take a familiar SF scenario and give it a bit of a twist. Indeed the entire novel is like that: familiar, but with a bit of a zesty twist to make things feel new.

A blurb in the press material compares it to Scalzi meets Firefly (Whedon). Sadly I have neither read Scalzi nor watched more than a few minutes of Firefly. (I know, I know…) But the characters and their interactions certainly felt Whedonesque to me, including the trait of being expendable. Yet, I was drawn to this looking for a good piece of science fiction, and I can’t really call it that. It’s a good adventure, set in a SF universe, but the SF is particularly soft and could leave some fans yearning for something deeper. Moreover I would classify it as what some mass paperback’s were labeled as “Men’s Adventures”. The book contains its strong female roles, no doubt, but too often they seem used for the sexual vagrancies of the more degenerate bad guys, described as if they were fantasies of the author.

The ending sets up the next novel perfectly, and suggests that a bit more attention might be kept to the science fiction aspects in future volumes, which at least might be worth a light read even if nothing improves from what’s found here.

Three Stars out of Five