Tuesday, April 28, 2020

The Paradise Factory by Jim Keen: review

4/5 stars on Goodreads

The Paradise Factory by Jim Keen

I recently joined NetGalley, a website that makes it easier for publishers to get books in the hands of reviewers. Like everyone else, I hope to get the next book of my favourite author before it’s published, but that seldom happens. However, there are plenty of books available for immediate download by authors I’ve never heard of before and books I wouldn’t come to read otherwise. I’ve decided to give some of those a chance.

The first book I picked is The Paradise Factory, Cortex book 1 by Jim Keen. It’s being marketed as cyberpunk, which I found very misleading, as there are no cyberpunk elements. It’s more a post-apocalyptic sci-fi dystopia. The apocalypse in this case is brought about by the invention of Mechanical Intelligence, a machine that has made human workforce obsolete. Hundreds of millions are without work and those lucky enough to be employed can lose their job on a whim, with no social security to fall back on. That the humanity is still alive and kicking is more because of stubbornness than for any discernible survival skills.

The story follows Alice Yu, a Brooklyn cop in her twentiesI thinkwhose partner is abducted right in front of her. Even though loyalty to one’s partner and initiative are discouraged by her bosses, Alice goes after him. Traces lead to Brooklyn Bridge, a lawless no-go-zone ruled by criminal empire. She knows she’ll lose her job if she goes there, but she goes anyway.

Another story-line follows Red, a young boy who needs to deliver a message over the Brooklyn Bridge, an errand that would pay well if the other kids weren’t trying to kill him for it. The paths of Alice and Red meet on the bridge and they team up.

The plot is straightforward: find the partner and save him. Obstacles come in form of bridge security trying to kill Alice for their boss, a crime lord who has a nefarious enterprise to conceal. The constant fights became boring pretty soon, but Alice is fighting PTSD from her time as a Marine in Mars, which gives some depth to her character. Because of what she considers a personal failure in Mars, she decides that saving Red is more important than finding her partner, a decision that Red disputes, forcing her to face her past.

After all the fighting, the main conflict is solved amazingly easily. If it hadn’t been for the chapter that followed, which showed the truth of what was on the other side of the bridge and gave both the world and the main characters some new depth, this would’ve been a solid three star book. The ending changed that.

I had some issues with the book. One of them was with the way the scenes were set. Namely that they weren’t. Every scene, especially in the beginning, started right with the action or even a beat after it. For example, the book starts a moment after Alice’s partner has been taken, when she is fighting her injuries. No context was offered to where she was, why she was there, and why her partner mattered so much to her. As it was, I had trouble understanding Alice’s need to go after him other than the general ‘of course she does’. Were they friends or was there a debt to pay? Was he a lover, a mentor? In a world where such decision means a pretty certain death, it needs to be a good reason. Causes were given later in the book, but it came too late as I’d already formed my opinion.

Incidentally, I’m not a fan of a narrative where character motivations, like the cause of Alice’s PTSD, are rationed and revealed after they have already influenced character’s actions. It made the narrative style very claustrophobic with too little to work on. I had to put the book down fairly often just to clear my head. That fortunately changed towards the end of the book when all the players were familiar and the plot began to move forward.

I had issue with the world-building as well. If the world is that rigged against humanity, with no chances of survival, how come there are so many humans left? Especially since there’s a constant winter (and where did that come from). Why are there no riots? The only one seems to be planned by the bad guys for their benefit. The idea of MI didn’t work well either. How could a machine replace the entire workforce? All it seemed to be able to do is print human body parts. They are so expensive that countries bankrupted themselves to get one, so they can’t be in every factory for example. And if they are supremely intellect, how come one of them could be fooled by a human? All the other technology seemed to be in the service of humanity, like the intelligent jacket Alice was wearing, so why was the humanity in such a bad state. Also, most of the technology appeared to be micro-chip based, whereas MI seems to be based on a Babbagean difference enginea cool idea that would’ve changed the entire world-building if everything was based on that; a twenty-first century steampunk world powered by nuclear reactors.

All the issues aside, I liked the book enough to keep reading through the claustrophobic chapters. I liked Alice from the start and Red grew on me. Bad guys could have been more evil, but considering the ending, there’s maybe some use for them in subsequent books. I’m not entirely sure I’ll continue with the series, but I’m glad I read this one.

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