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.
Sometimes, a reader is just in the mood for some fast-paced, face-punching fun; sometimes, all a reader wants is a thrilling ride through a novel which doesn’t require great intellectual or emotional engagement. A roller coaster, a thrill ride. That was my mood when I picked up Necrotech, at any rate.
Essentially, K. C. Alexander is playing in the 1980s cyberpunk swimming pool – the grimy chrome one, where corporations run everything, the world is fucked, and going merc is a pretty good option. Necrotech is a climate change driven disaster zone, although it feels like a 1980s climate crisis (not greenhouse gases but the ozone layer!), with Judge Dredd-like megacities full of crime and corruption; Alexander makes it incredibly clear this is a grimy, terrible place to live unless you’re corporate enough to be safely away from all the muck of the world she’s created. The biggest difference between most corporate dystopias and this one is how much glee Alexander seems to take in showing us the grimiest, most vice-ridden aspects of the world; throwing sex workers, in a vaguely whorephobic way, drugs, grunge and grime at the reader as if to drive home how debauched those outside-slash-below the law are.
That’s a trend that carries into the characterisation; Necrotech isn’t quite edgy-for-the-sake-of-edgy, but it pushes into that territory, especially in the vocabulary of the narrator. As someone not averse to swearing themselves, and who lives in Glasgow, I am used to the way swearing forms part of a vocabulary, but Riko seems to swear, occasionally in a repetitive manner, more than she breathes; she’s driven heavily by libido and anger, and singularly impulsive, and her character development is at times hampered by the way Alexander uses her sex drive almost as a replacement for character interaction. The rest of the cast aren’t, unfortunately, as interesting; they’re largely two dimensional or enigmatic to the point of being one-dimensional, and so don’t draw the sympathy they really need for the novel to have the emotional heft it might otherwise achieve.
Necrotech is also… sociopolitically interesting. Riko is bisexual and has a rapacious sex drive, to an almost comical level, while other characters are also sexual beings; the problem is that the book itself is quite heteronormative (gay marriage doesn’t appear to exist in this future, for instance) and the one queer relationship we see is a tragedy before the book even really gets going. The gender balance of the book is fantastic, and Alexander is absolutely unafraid of giving us badass combatative butch female characters, as well as very femme ones, sometimes the same people; and there’s a passing mention of nonbinary people as background, although no foregrounded characters are enby.
The plot is a mixed bag too. On the one hand, it doesn’t end. Necrotech falls into the trap so common to series of not really having a conclusion, just an ending, forcing the reader to go to the sequel; the problem is, I don’t know from this if Alexander can write an ending. On the other hand, while it lasts, it is pulse-poundingly action filled, with an approach to combat scenes which works brilliantly, putting one really into the fight the way the better class of video game does, making you feel not only the punches thrown but also the blows taken; Alexander is clearly aware of the toll fighting takes on one, and so makes it clear to the reader, too. The whole thing hangs together slimly – the plot is rather extended by the action scenes, but in a book like this, that works – as a kind of neo-noir mystery about what happened to Riko immediately as the book starts; it’s kept almost frustratingly mysterious, and Necrotech doesn’t really earn the lack of answers it gives, but that suggests that’s why we’re here.
It’s really not. In the end, Necrotech isn’t a sophisticated look at a dystopian corporate future interested in the complexities of life in a post-government climate-change-ridden world. It’s a throwback to 1980s cyberpunk, grimy, messy, action-packed, and problematic as hell, but fun with it.
DISCLOSURE: This review is based on a copy of the final novel provided by the publisher, Angry Robot Books.
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