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Time was when science fiction and horror had quite a bit of overlap. That's to say that many, many SF tales* fell into the category of cautionary tales. You know what I'm talking about; the kind of story where someone makes a scientific advance and many (or all) people die horribly because of attitudes regarding this particular piece of science or that particular attitude. The (original) movie version of PLANET OF THE APES and its sequel BENEATH THE PLANET OF THE APES are perfect examples of this.
In it, man uses suspended animation techniques to cross great distances of space, which flings the characters into Einsteinian future because they accelerate to nearly the speed of light. But their trajectory moves back on itself, and they unwittingly come to an Earth where apes have taken their place in the evolutionary food chain, and the "primitive" hatred and fear exhibited by the apes for anyone unlike them gets everyone killed in a planet-killing nuclear blast. Though the show was wildly entertaining, despite its many ragged plot holes, it had several preachy moments that were at times difficult to take.
Time travel is part of science fiction. Nuclear annihilation and radioactive zones and mutants are arguably elements of horror.
Since then, science fiction – or speculative fiction, as many authors prefer to call it – and horror have in great measure gone their separate ways, though the cautionary tale (most episodes of both incarnations of THE OUTER LIMITS, for example) often will still employ elements of both.
Having said that, science fiction will often employ elements of the thriller: epic battles, chases, plots and counterplots for worldwide domination, high body counts and badass heroes and villains.
This brings me to new novelist K.M. Ruiz, who, in her science fiction thriller MIND STORM, employs all of these tropes and more. The novel opens on a future Earth, an Earth that has suffered a nuclear holocaust which laid great expanses of the planet to waste, and had the side effect of mutating DNA. Some of these mutations came in the form of psionic powers – what we used to call ESP – and others just resulted in dirty DNA. These latter folks were essentially outcast to massive slums built around the towering skyscrapers and underground bunkers of the accepted citizens with unmarred genetic material.
Those with paranormal powers, such as telepathy, telekinesis, the ability to teleport, the ability to manipulate electricity and a host of others, work for one of two groups: the first is Strykers Syndicate, who are the property of the world government and little better than peacekeeping slaves. The second syndicate is a group of rogue psions called the Warhounds. Threnody Corwin and her team must enter the slums around former L.A. – the Slums of the Angels – and locate a renegade psionic expert of the highest level.
Their quarry beats them to the punch. When he finds them, he shows them that everything they thought they knew as history, gospel, and government is a lie. What Threnody undergoes is not a successful mission that redeems her of past failures, but a kidnapping that leads her to question her loyalties, her alliances, her background, and her future. She finds plans greater than she has dreamed about – moves and countermoves that will lead to the end of her life as she knows it and possibly to the end of the world. She has a decision to make.
And a storm is coming. One that will decide her fate and that of half the planet.
Okay, first the good stuff. Ruiz has skills. She has several point-of-view characters besides Thronody and uses them to good advantage. The plot is complex – more than complex, it's positively Byzantine. But by experiencing different aspects of it through different eyes, the reader has no trouble following what's going on – and here's the really cool thing: where it counts, she reveals to the reader what's going on before the pertinent characters get into it themselves. Alfred Hitchcock used this method in his movies because it ramps up suspense, evoking from the reader that no-don't-go-there response. Ruiz does the same by revealing to her audience what her characters are getting into before they do themselves.
Not only that, but she has a simple yet ingenious way of handling telepathic psi-battles. Her secret to keeping them interesting? She head-jumps, hopping from POV to POV, seemingly at random. Now this is normally anathema, the death-knell of a new manuscript. It took me a few pages to realize Ruiz did this on purpose, taking the reader where the action is, along the psionic links shared by the combatants to illustrate not only the battles and how they were experienced by the characters, but to focus on the interesting parts of the battle without having to ponderously switch points of view the old way. So the reader experience the battle – as though he or she were the one telepathically linked with the characters.
My overall reaction to the book? I loved it.
Now the copy I received has a few flaws, though not many. There are two chapters near the end that needed rewrites. Not for content or story, but just for language and style of storytelling; they read differently than nearly the whole book, and had a few no-nos that shouldn't have gone out. I'll leave it to you to decide if the version I received became the final one you read.
One last crit – I could have wished for the characters to be a little more fleshed out – Ruiz takes some shortcuts with character creation. However, in a novel like this, you have to sacrifice something for world-building; otherwise you end up with a ponderously big book. And since this is the first of a planned set, I can wait for the characters to become perfectly drawn. Oh, yeah. And all the questions aren't answered with the story conflict is resolved, so be prepared to be patient.
All in all, Ruiz is an excellent talent who sets the bar high with an amazing page-turner of a story. I couldn't flick to the next screen fast enough (yeah, I'm one of those). She's definitely one to watch if you're an SF thriller person. If you like government intrigue tales, if you like high adventure and extremely cool ideas, you'll like this. I sacrificed sleep for it on more than one occasion.
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