Thursday, 13 August 2009

‘Prime’ – Nate Kenyon (Apex Publications)

Around these parts, Nate Kenyon is known for having written some great horror over the last year and a bit. If you’re a horror fan, and you haven’t checked them out already, then you might want to find yourself copies of ‘Bloodstone’, ‘The Reach’ and ‘The Bone Factory’. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.
One of the things I noticed was that the first two books mentioned were heavily influenced by certain works of Stephen King. They still made for very good reading though and in my review of ‘The Reach’ I said that I’d be interested to see what happened ‘if Kenyon took his next book out from under this influence’. As luck would have it I got that very chance when I was asked if I would like to review ‘Prime’; no horror influences here as this is science fiction all the way! At only one hundred and forty pages long, ‘Prime’ looked like a relatively quick read that would do me for the commute to work. It took a little longer than that as I ended up really getting into it...

In a world where virtual and real lives are virtually inseparable, the smallest glitch can have the most devastating of consequences. People are dying because of this glitch and bug hunter William Bellow is the man in demand. Here’s a guy who can go right into the network and tackle the problem at its source. That’s if he can get back out alive though. And even if he does, Bellow faces a fight to stay alive in the real world as well. Bellow is in the middle of something big that will call the nature of his own memories into question as well as the violent events of his past...

I didn’t mind it all when the fire alarm went off this morning as this meant I was able to keep reading ‘Prime’ whilst others moaned about being stuck outside. I was moaning about having to go back inside; ‘Prime’ was reminiscent of ‘Neuromancer’ in tone (and background) but Kenyon took off from that point with a story that was all his own.

‘Prime’ is a tightly packed tale where nothing is included without very good reason. I sometimes felt that this worked against the book however; Kenyon paints a grim picture of the future but it felt like there wasn’t enough room for this picture to be all that it could be. It could have been a rich painting but ended up being more of a sketch instead... What we get instead is a decent backdrop that hints at a potential that isn’t fully explored. If you’re not bothered about world building then you won’t be bothered about this’. I enjoy my world building though and this is an area where ‘Prime’ is lacking.

The brevity of the book also means that the story itself almost falls down. Things move along so fast (with so little room to manoeuvre) that conclusions, made by characters, almost seem to spring out of thin air rather than form as a result of consideration of clues. This made me keep wondering if I had missed something or if characters really were forming conclusions out of thin air...

The fact is though that I found ‘Prime’ to be a gripping read. Bellow’s character is a joy to follow as he works his way through the mystery and finds out how his involvement runs deeper than he thought. Not only does Bellow’s development proceed at a natural pace but he is also hard as nails at the same time. This makes for some intense moments that inject fresh life into the plot and keep things buzzing.

‘Prime’ is also a thoughtful piece about mankind’s relationship with machines and where this could conceivably lead in the near future. There is already a close relationship, in the book, with media adverts that are beamed directly into the brain but there is the potential for so much more and this is what Kenyon looks at. The reader is left in no doubt where the author stands but the subject matter is dealt with in such a way that there is still plenty of food for thought at the end. A mark of a good book, as far as I’m concerned, is one that sticks around in your head after you have finished reading. ‘Prime’ certainly does that!

I guess my big complaint is that ‘Prime’ felt like it needed a few more pages to flesh things out properly and become a little more coherent. That didn’t stop it being a pleasure to read though, a gripping detective tale set against a bleak future backdrop that will appeal to sci-fi fans.

Eight and a Half out of Ten

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