Wednesday, 23 February 2011
‘Deus Ex: Icarus Effect’ – James Swallow (Del Rey)
No, the reason I had to find a copy of ‘Icarus Effect’ was simply because it was written by James Swallow who has turned out some quality reads for the Black Library without being one of their leading lights, at least as far as I can see. While luminaries such as Dan Abnett and Graham McNeill are turning out the big hitters, Swallow quietly gets on with turning out stuff that any self respecting Warhammer 40K fan knows to be worth picking up. Check out my review for ‘Nemesis’ as an example.
With all this in mind I figured it could be very interesting to see what I thought of Swallow’s work outside its ‘natural habitat’ (so to speak) and ‘Icarus Effect’ gave me the chance to do just that. Having read it though... Well, I would pick up more of his work in other settings but I wasn’t all that impressed this time round.
It’s the year 2027 and the world is swiftly dividing itself into two camps, those who make use of extensive physical augmentation and those who prefer to keep their bodies ‘pure’ and free of mechanics. Things go much deeper than that though with a shadowy cabal of ruthless individuals looking to block the flow of potentially limitless human evolution and make sure that humanity remains under its control...
Two people are about to fall under the gaze of this group and their lives will become even more dangerous, than they were already, as a result. Secret Service Agent Anna Kelso has been suspended for investigating the shooting that claimed her partner’s life. Can the group of hackers that she discovered protect her from the people wishing to make sure that what she has discovered remains a secret?
Mercenary Ben Saxon finds himself embroiled in the intrigues of a special ops teams claiming to be a force for good. The truth is far different though and Saxon is about to find himself on the run from a group of the deadliest killers in the world. When circumstances force Saxon and Kelso to team up, that’s when things get really nasty...
I really should have enjoyed this one a whole lot more than I did; I finished it so that’s saying something at least. ‘Icarus Effect’ has cyberpunk technology and attitude coming out of its ears with cybernetically enhanced assassins and edgy looking hackers running to keep up with a plot that flows like quicksilver. Swallow paints the background in appropriately dirty and gritty tones and the reader is left in no doubt about how dangerous this scenario is for all the characters concerned. When things kick off it’s all done in fine style with bullets flying and loads of cybernetic gizmos doing some pretty cool looking stuff. Just the kind of thing that I’m into. Right?
Well... yes but only up to a point. All of that was enough to keep me reading and I can’t deny that it was entertaining but there were elements that, in the end, had me reading just to say that I’d finished the book.
The main problem for me was that the whole book was signposted a little too clearly for someone like me who likes a little surprise in their reading every now and again. Without giving too much away, it didn’t take long before I could tell who the bad guys really were, who was going to turn traitor and how things had to end.
Now, I know that if you’re going for a book that’s full of cool technology, guns with impressive names and stuff blowing up then something else will have to give. More often than not it will be a few twists and turns in the plot but to get rid of all them is something else entirely. The ‘impossible choice’ that Saxon has to make, right at the end, lost all impact for me because it was all too clear what he would choose to do. When things get to that point then you can count yourself damn lucky that the plot flows as smoothly as it does because that’s the only thing keeping things going. I could see this approach working on the big screen as you’re caught up in all the visual stuff, there needs to be a little more to a book though and that wasn’t the case here... As this is a tie-in book, I wonder if Swallow was limited by word count or what established canon would let him write. I don’t know...
The characters of Ben Saxon and Anna Kelso didn’t do a lot for me either. I was expecting more from two characters meant to be carrying the whole story to be honest. While they’re both capable of fighting their way out of trouble that’s pretty much all they do. They both make personal journeys towards some kind of truth and redemption but the character traits that define them are so heavily emphasised that the journey loses all sense of importance. You know that Saxon’s sense of honour will lead him to certain decisions in the same way that Kelso’s sense of justice will do the same thing. When you know all this you end up feeling that you may as well skip the personal quest and go straight to the destination, you won’t be missing out on anything and that was the case here. I’m looking for a little more substance (perhaps a little humanity even?) from characters meant to be holding the whole thing together.
I think the fairest thing to say is that if you’re a fan of the computer game then you will probably enjoy the book with its references to ‘in game’ stuff (yep, I looked it up on Wikipedia). For me though, what was an entertaining read was also an infuriating read at the same time as the approach the book went for demanded sacrifices (in terms of plot and characterisation) that didn’t sit well with me. Would I read the next book? At the moment, I’m not sure...
Six and a Half out of Ten