Street thug Riko has some serious issues—memories wiped, reputation tanked, girlfriend turned into a tech-fueled zombie. And the only people who can help are the mercenaries who think she screwed them over.
In an apathetic society devoid of ethics or regulation, where fusing tech and flesh can mean a killing edge or a killer conversion, a massive conspiracy is unfolding that will alter the course of the human condition forever.
With corporate meatheads on her ass and a necro-tech blight between her and salvation, Riko is going to have to fight meaner, work smarter, and push harder than she’s ever had to. And that’s just to make it through the day.
About a year and a half ago, while still writing for SF Signal on a somewhat regular’ish basis, I come across a guest post by KC Alexander on the topic of transhumanism in science fiction.
My eyeballs perked right up (’cause I have super perky eyeballs and if you’ve read much of my fiction, you’ve probably figured out by now that I got sort of a hard-on for all things transhuman). So I dive right into this article and within a few paragraphs she starts talking about Transmetropolitan, a graphic novel by the other-worldly Warren Ellis and Darick Robertson.
Somehow, someway, I must’ve been living under a rock up to this point, because this series is one of those things I classify as a firm never-knew. Meaning, I never-knew something so beautiful even existed.
Anyways, towards the end of that transhumanism article, Kace seamlessly segued into her personal project Necrotech which had yet to drop at that point. I perused the blurb, read a bit of the intro, and then did something I almost never, ever do: I signed up to receive a reminder of when the book was dropping.
There was just something about this brash, foul-mouthed, tech’ed out blond mercenary that reminded me of Chuck Wendig’s Miriam Black (minus the tech, blond hair, and a couple other distinguishing characteristics), and made me say, “I need to read this.”
Fast-forward half-a-year later and I finally got to swan-dive into Necrotech.
So, did it live up to the hype I’d built up in my own mind?
Let’s find out.
Welcome to The Voice, I Choose You
KC’s words are a rusty lawnmower blade to the domepiece (in the best possible way). She throws the full weight of Riko’s personality at you within the first few pages. You’ll know by the end of the first chapter whether or not this story is for you.
Hell, if you’re as self-actualized as me, you’ll know by the end of the first paragraph. Right about the time you hit this gem:
“Breathing took effort; it tasted like I was licking something’s fecal afterbirth with every swallow.”
I love a writer not afraid to give a full-frontal assault when it comes to voice, and if there’s one place that Necrotech truly shines like a pimp’s gold tooth in the muddled glow of a flickering streetlamp, it’s here. To compare one author’s voice to another is to sashay onto some truly questionable terrain. Nevertheless, I got my dancing pants on, so let’s do some comparing: In my mind, KC is a unique beast, sort of like a unicorn mixed with minotaur.
So, a unitaur….
Maybe a Minocorn.
Yeah, that’s about right.
Boy Meets World
Next up on the list of awesome is WORLDBUILDING! Necrotech is light on the ‘global’ view, but heavy on the ground-floor. This means we don’t get a great sense for what’s happening in the world at large, but the way KC deftly spackles worldbuilding into every corner of every paragraph (while somehow managing not to be blatantly expository) is an impressive accomplishment for a debut novel.
This is a grungy world I’d want nothing to do with, but that’s practically a requisite for cyberpunk.
Local level politics combined with the cultural clash between poor and rich (or freelance vs corpo) really sets the tone for much of the tension in Necrotech. KC clearly put a lot of thought into the interplay between these dynamics. The result is a world that, at least through the eyes of Riko, feels completely flushed out.
What’s the Big Idea
The general premise of Necrotech is all sorts of glitter and confetti fabulous. Viral code capable of corrupting an individual’s implants/tech, thus turning them into suped-up zombie?! Yeah, sign me up. And do note, I typically hate zombie stories. In the past five years, this is only the second story involving zombies that I walked away from thinking, “More, please, and thank you.”
Necrotech follows along through the eyeballs of mercenary hard-ass, Riko, as she seeks to unravel a conspiracy and stop a techno-zombie outbreak that she may, or may not, have played an influential role in starting. There are a lot to love about Riko. She’s unapologetically bad-ass. She owns her personal bubble and has no problem laying the smackdown should the need arise.
But she ain’t all muscle (literally, one of her arms is cybernetic. Look at me being all literal and metaphorical in a single sentence). Riko’s got some deeply seated psychological issues stemming from… well, they kind of stem from all sorts of places. That’s what makes her such a compelling character to follow.
Overall, I fall more in the camp of, “I love Riko and all her quirky ass problems,” than I do in the, “God-damn, Riko is a truckload of fucked up”. Buuuuut, it’s gotta be said that Riko is a straight-up mess of a person. Which is fine, no bigs, but after following along with her for a couple hundred pages, you’re sort of left feeling a little disconnected.
Part of the issue is that she has a crazy deep chip on her shoulder when it comes to interpersonal relations. She has literally pissed off the entire world, and even the people she considers friends want/try to kill her on multiple occasions. Hard to root for somebody so easily despised.
Granted, she’s totally aware of how fucked up she is, and how she is continually fucking up her relationships, but still, it’s telling that nobody in this book really goes to bat for her.
We’ve got ourselves a corporate big-wig named Malik playing private benefactor to a team of ace mercenaries tasked with an impossible mission into the gaping maw of hell. Is he good? Is he bad? Nobody knows. And that leaves the reader feeling incredibly torn when Riko alternates between wanting to rip his spine out through his throat in one moment, to wanting to jump his bones in the next. Sure, this give and take between wants and desires, text and subsext, can be a lot of fun. Towards the end of the story, however, we’re no closer to resolution. We still have this not so small, gnawing sensation in our gut telling us that Malik is straight up bad news (mostly ‘cause Riko keeps telling us this), but then she keeps, ya know, engaging with him in ways I probably wouldn’t if I had concerns about the fact that he could very well be a sadist.
Ultimately, this relationship between Malik and Riko fell somewhat flat for me. Riko comes off as desperate, and Malik comes off as robotic.
Also, while the name Malik is dope, it means King, which is a little too on the nose for my tastes, but maybe that’s just me.
Are We There Yet?
The biggest issue I had with Necrotech is that the overarching story really hasn’t taken us any closer to resolution by the end. Now, Necrotech is part of a series so I’m sure we can look forward to this in future installments, but by the end of this book, you’re left wondering, “That’s it?”
This books is not for everyone. Not by a long-shot. But if you enjoy gritty character driven stories with a bad-ass female lead, worldbuilding that’ll make your head spin, and the sort of sharp, jagged writing that burrows into your brain-meat and leaves retinal afterimages, then Necrotech is for you.
Pick up your copy today from Amazon for only $1.99 and get to reading, ‘cause the second book in the series, Nanoshock is coming out in November.