Book Review: Quantum Mortis: A Man Disrupted by Steve Rsaza and Vox Day

Anyone who has been reading this blog for a while knows full well by now that I'm a big fan of Vox Day's work. I'm very much looking forward to his next instalment in his The Arts of Dark and Light series. However, Vox's roots as a writer are as much set in sci-fi as they are in fantasy literature, and with the workload that he has set for himself with the Selenoth canon, he just hasn't had time to write anything in the sci-fi genre.

Enter Steve Rsaza, an author who wanted to collaborate with Vox. Steve cooked up a story based on an old outline of Vox's concerning a sci-fi short story involving a detective, an AI, several interesting plot twists, and a lot of stuff getting blown up but good. The net result is a new sci-fi series called Quantum Mortis, and A Man Disrupted is the first entry into this new canon.

As the authors themselves have noted, the point of this book is very simple: they intended to tell a good, enjoyable, fast-paced detective story where the good guys do what they have to do without letting petty concerns about "civilians" or "collateral damage" get in the way. In other words, they wanted to write the kind of sci-fi novel that just isn't written very often any more- fun, fast-paced, a good read, without any Deep Meaningful Philosophy buried in it. It's the kind of novel that Arthur C. Clarke forgot how to write decades ago- an unabashedly male-centric novel written by, and for, blokes who really like old-school sci-fi. To quote Vox himself:
Blue SF is a return to the manly adventure fiction of the past. Blue SF says "fuck that" to strong independent female protagonists who ride rainbow-farting unicorns and flex their nonexistent muscles when they aren't being mounted by corpses and canids. Blue SF says "fuck that" to sexual equality, salutes la difference, and doesn't deign to throw bones to women who might feelbad that their oh-so-tender feelingses isn't being gently massaged. And Blue SF says "fuck off" to every idiot of either sex who whines about it being too this or not enough that. 
Blue SF does not apologize for being male, for being insufficiently inclusive, or for refusing to fall in line with the dynamic demand for character quotas concerning sex, race, religion, and sexual preferences. Unlike Pink SF, Blue SF is sufficiently confident to be what it is rather than deceptively market itself as what it manifestly is not. Can you even imagine genuine science fiction trying to sneak into the romance market and pretending that it's all proper romance when actually there is little more than action and technology and ideas under a very thin and superficial veil of romantic intrigue and self-centered drama?
Well I've got good news, folks: this book is blue-to-the-bone sci-fi.

QM:AMD concerns the work of one Detective Graven Tower, a homicide cop with a very traumatic military past who works to police the streets (and skies) of the independent planet of Rhysalan in the name of the Duke of said planet. He starts out by investigating the murder of a man killed- a more accurate description would be, disintegrated- by a particle disruptor (a singularly nasty weapon that, judging by its effects, makes a JDAM look subtle and stylish by comparison). His investigation lets him cross paths with a rather shapely young female detective in the city's police department, one Detector Hildreth, while Tower himself gets enmeshed ever deeper within a criminal conspiracy that has so many twists and turns that eventually you're going to have a tough time figuring out which way is up.

I guess the best way to describe this book is this: if you can imagine something like The Maltese Falcon crashing into Ghost in the Shell at roughly 200mph, and then managed to rear-end The Jetsons, the result would be a little bit like this book. It's detective-noir-meets-shoot-em-up-sci-fi-meets-deep-philosophy. And I have to say, it's really pretty good.

The plot is convoluted, to be sure (come to think of it, that's exactly why it's so much like Ghost in the Shell); in fact, by the time you get near the end and discover exactly what is behind the various disintegrated bodies, you'll find yourself amazed at the way that Rsaza built it up without getting completely lost in the details. In fact I found it a little difficult to follow in places, particularly right at the end where I couldn't quite figure out exactly what was going on. In my opinion this is the weakest part of the book, since it's a little hard to keep everything straight after a while.

That said, there is quite a lot to enjoy here. The one question that sci-fi addicts like me always have for a new SF book is: "does s*** get blowed up?" The answer: "awwwww yeah". The book is gratifyingly free of any angst or introspection when it comes to shooting stuff in the face; the chase scene through the park in the middle, for instance, has an enjoyably nasty ending and is exceptionally well written. The amount of gun porn in the story alone is worth the price of admission; slugthrowers, laser rifles, particle disruptors, grenade launchers, and very dangerous projectile weapons are all described in loving detail, and their effects upon the unfortunates who happen to be on the business end of these weapons are imagined with a level of relish and detail that would make a liberabbit run screaming out of the room.

Character development also gets a big plus here. Graven Tower is, as mentioned, refreshingly free of any kind of self-doubt when it comes to blowing stuff up, but you do get considerable insights into his past as a soldier, and you do get to see what made him the borderline psychotic killing machine that he can turn into. And the twist in the plot regarding his AI companion, Baby, is quite an emotional one- you get to understand exactly why it is that Tower hasn't been on a date in 8 years, as Baby mentions to him early on when he contacts Detector Hildreth. (That Baby's personality appears to be a direct riff on Cortana's only serves to make the book more interesting.)

The key to any good sci-fi series, of course, has got to be the development of an interesting, believable, yet futuristic universe. That is precisely what makes this book rather good indeed. Steve and Vox have done a solid job in creating a distant future in which mankind has colonised the stars, yet at all points acknowledge that the basic nature of Man never really changes. That is precisely why this story exists in the first place- despite the incredible technological advances of the society of Rhysalan, Graven Tower and the MCID are kept busy because the feuds and follies of Man follow him no matter where he goes. The duchy of Rhysalan, for instance, is independent and neutral, and a past Duke of Rhysalan figured out ages ago that the best way to preserve the duchy's independence, while also bringing in a great deal of revenue, would be to present the planet as a haven for governments-in-exile, provided that they obey the Duke's laws and not cause any trouble. That latter provision is apparently rather difficult for a lot of feuding governments with established embassies on the planet, so as a result, Tower and his colleagues are constantly busy.

And the technology of this fictional universe is pretty damn neat too. Towers, er, ancilla, Baby, has a sarcastic, hard-edged personality that complements Tower's own very well (which is not the least bit surprising once you realise how Baby came to be), and the descriptions of how Baby's cognitive and computing abilities interface with Tower's own intuitive leaps are very well done. The aforementioned gun porn is, of course, great fun. The technology described in this book is hugely impressive yet very familiar to anyone who's been reading sci-fi for a long time- or to anyone who used to watch The Jetsons as a kid, of course. (I did. Good times, good times...)

As an added bonus, shortly after the release of QM:AMD, Steve and Vox released a short story called Quantum Mortis: Gravity Kills, which brings Graven Tower into the middle of a murder investigation of a diplomat on board a ship carrying, among other things, a truckload of very well-equipped interstellar mercenaries and a lot of very very badass weaponry. I recommend reading AMD first, then GK, otherwise GK won't make very much sense, but let's just say that if you liked the book, you'll like the short story. Everything that made the book good is preserved in the story.

Overall, I'd say that this is the start of a very promising new sci-fi series. If this is what Vox and Steve, and Larry and Tom and John Ringo and David Weber and others like them, mean by "blue SF", then I say, bring it on. This is exactly what we need in response to the hackneyed, Twilight-innnn-SPAAAAAAAAACE derivative works that make up much of the bestseller lists in modern sci-fi.

Didact's Verdict: 4/5, a slightly confusing plot and somewhat rushed action sequences at the end fail to dent an otherwise very enjoyable and fun read.

Buy/download Quantum Mortis: A Man Disrupted here.

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