Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Second Change Angel by Griffin Barber and Kacey Ezell: review

3/5 stars on Goodreads

Second Chance Angel by Griffin Barber and Kacey Ezell
Second Change Angel is a sci-fi mystery set in somewhere in space, somewhen in the future. Full disclosure: one, I received a free copy from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review, and two, I stopped reading around the 70% mark and didn’t finish it.

Second Change Angel is one of those unfortunate books that don’t give the reader any roadmap to work on when it comes to characters, time and spaceand space. I put the latter in twice, because apparently it takes place in a space station, though we only get a confirmation of that when the main character leaves the place. Until then, we could’ve been on a random planet or a moon just as well.

Time is somewhere in the future after a devastating war with an alien race that has blown up the earth. The war was apparently long, but the earth has been gone for only seven years. Does this upset the remaining humans? No, it doesn’t. Maybe they’re too far removed from the home planet already. Maybe the human race has spread so far that the loss of the planet doesn’t matter. I don’t know, because I don’t know where we are in relation to the earth and how long ago humans have left it. Space travel is sort of fast, and although it depends on tricks like slingshots around a sun and using a planet’s gravitational force for deceleration, I got the notion that we’re far, far from our solar system.

Place is a space station that seems to be built to accommodate humans, though not by humans, if I got that right. The place is so poorly described that all I have are weird, confusing and frustrating impressions that don’t really make any sense when put together. The place is apparently huge, because people travel by vehicles. It’s built on one level, with very tall houses rising from it, so that the ceiling has to be high, but it’s also curving. The ceiling is apparently non-transparent, because the place is artificially lit. But despite all this, there is only one level below ground? How does that even work?

Characters are the greatest weakness. There are four point of view characters, three of which are AIs. That was why I initially chose the book, having read and loved books like Murderbot Diaries where the AI tries to cope among humanity, but remains essential alien to it. Unfortunately that wasn’t what I got.

The AIs are very human-like with emotions and petty grievances, and inability to concentrate on more than one task at the time. They are gendered and very stereotypically at that. LEO, a male, is a law enforcement AI and SARA, a female, a station administrative AI. Both behave according to their assumed gender as well. The station AIs have their own mystery plot unfolding concerning a virus or some such that cause their emotions and prevent them from correcting the malfunction. They also provide a bird’s eye view on some characters, so that we learn more than just the main character’s point of view.

The main AI character is a personal AI called Angel. Developed for soldiers, personal AIs are mainly supposed to enhance their users’ physical and mental abilities during the battle, but the war is over and the AIs remain. Angel belongs to a former special ops soldier Siren who works as a lounge singer in a seedy bar. She goes missing and somehow Angel ends up in the body of another former soldier who has had his AI removed as a disciplinary measure.

Angel is a female and behaves like one to get her way with her new host, like making him feel like he’s being caressed by her. She’s manipulative and doesn’t hesitate to take over the host’s body when she feels like it with no regard to his right to govern his bodynor is that philosophical question brought up in the narrative. She sulks and is in general a great nuisance and a very annoying character. As an AI, she’s a failure. As a narrator, she’s really difficult to follow, because she wavers between I, we, and he when she describes the actions of the body she inhabits.

The only human character is Muck, the former soldier whose body Angel invadesuninvited, I might add. We don’t learn anything about him initially, and titbits about his past spring up only when the plot so requires. For example, he needs a rescue on a desert and it so happens that the religious order that saves him is the one he grew up in. Wouldn’t that have made a great starting point for building his character? How does a man who grows up with an order who shuns AI technology end up becoming an AI enhanced soldier? Maybe the answer is given at the end of the book, but I didn’t get that far. At some point Angel also informs him that the memory he has of the events that led to his disgrace are altered. It’s a meaningless titbit at that particular point, but maybe all is revealed in the endand hopefully it links with the overall plot somehow too. I don’t know. What I know is that it would’ve been more meaningful if Muck had even remotely suspected it earlier.

All in all, Muck is a spineless character in a thug’s body who is pushed this way and that by Angel. He’s seemingly in lead of the investigation that Angel forces him to do, but that’s about the only thing that distinguishes him in any way.

What about the plot then? Siren goes missing without the knowledge of her AI who somehow gets booted off her body and ends up in Muck’s, so she forces him to investigate the disappearance. Do they start by investigating who might have the technological skills to remove an AI? No, they go after the biggest drug baron. Do they search the most obvious places for her, like the station itself? No, they head off the station to a planet the drug baron directs them to. Do they find her there? No.

This is where I stopped reading, by the way. The events so far had been so illogical and stupid and filled with out of the blue attacks and pointless detours, like getting weapons from an arms dealer Muck then never even uses before they get blown up. The secondary plot with the station AIs about the virus infecting them might have been more interesting, but they were so annoying characters that I couldn’t really care.

The task of making sense of the plot wasn’t made any easier by the narrative that was mostly dialogue between talking heads. Most of the time there was no indication about who was talkingnot a single ‘he said, she said’, or even the occasional action beat of ‘she smiled’, ‘he nodded’so that I had to actually count the exchanges to figure out who was saying what. This was made infinitely more difficult by the file I received from NetGalley that was dismally formatted, with paragraphs that either had no indents or had indents in the middle of the sentence, and dialogues that bled together in endless rows.

So, all in all, a disappointing experience. Why, then, did I give it three stars? I don’t know. It had some draw that kept me reading despite the difficulties, like the struggle with PTSD Muck and Siren originally dealt withthough that was soon forgottenand really imaginative alienswho were all criminals, by the way. And who knows, maybe it redeems itself in the end. I couldn’t make myself finish the book, but I don’t want to rob others the chance to find out by giving the book only two stars. If it improves, let me know.

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