My first Starving Review is one that is done as a courtesy to the author, Merrill ‘Rick’ Chapman, who was the first person out there in the blogosphere to take a look at my firs book, Indomitable, and go ‘Hey, I’ll read that and tell you what I think’. Even that little bit of acceptance, even if he wound up hating it, was something that is rare out there in the wild world of indie books so this review of his own book is my way of saying thanks. Now only that, this entire concept of reviewing is a way of paying it forward, giving other authors the chance that Merrill and the other people brave enough to review my book gave me.
Now, on with the show!
I think I would do Rule-Set a great disservice by doing one of those bland ‘this happened, then this, and it was cool’ kind of reviews. First, any spoilers would ruin the book for any reader and would certainly ruin the future volumes. Second, that’s just now my style. Instead, let’s look at this in some broad conceptual strokes.
First, genre. Like most good literature, Rule-Set squirms under the attempt to tie it down too closely. In broad terms, it would be best to look at it through the lens of ‘hard science-fiction’. Rule-Set is not afraid to hit the reader with the science of it’s future Earth and, at the same time, isn’t afraid to pull intellectual punches in other arenas as well. This might be considered daunting to some, but the author never leaves the reader dangling. Everything is presented in context so that, while the narrative can be crunchy at times, it never hits a wall of terminology. A good reader won’t be lost as concepts are built on top of concepts to make a logical, integrated whole.
Second, about that ‘science fiction’ thing. This book was obviously extensively researched. The science is all logical extensions of current real world work, bringing a healthy dose of realism to the whole affair. Even through that, the author manages to capture a sense of mystery and wonder as the plot progresses outside of the normal bounds of the main character’s experience. There is a strong hint of something more, beyond the science, but it’s left shrouded in mystery, bidding the reader to continue to debate it in their minds as they are drawn deeper down the book’s rabbit-hole.
Third, pacing. This is an intellectual book, I won’t pull punches there. It is not an action tale. However, Rule-Set is not adverse to bringing tension and drama when it’s needed and more than a bit of full blown action in segments. What this means is that, save for a stretch in the first few chapters as the main character is established, the book retains an excellent dramatic pace. Even that slow first stretch is spiced up a bit by one of the best uses of prologues (chock full of action) I’ve seen in a while.
Oh, and of course, as Rule-Set squirms around genre definitions much like a real quantum particle dodges direct observation, the core of the story is, essentially, a mystery, a mystery that just the surface of what promises to be a nesting doll of other mysteries. It is that mystery that propelled me through the last half of the book in one evening and leaves me drumming my fingers for Volume 2.
There’s one major area I haven’t touched on. The big one … characterization. The author doesn’t drop the ball there, fortunately. It certainly had to be tempting to just not worry about developing character. After all, there’s a lot of world-building, tech-splaining, and mystery-hiding going on here already. Nope, no sir. Mr. Chapman wisely remembered that the core of ANY story is the characters. There’s no cut-and-dry stock characters here. The main character, especially, follows an interesting arc of swinging highs and lows, only to …. nope. No spoilers! Let’s just put it like this: the man has an arc, a well-realized one that is subtle to start with, but ends with a major hook.
So, let’s sum up.
Rule-Set is a hard sci-fi mystery intellectual drama with some bits of hardcore action. Oh, and possible romantic seeds are strewn. Maybe. MYSTERY DAMMIT! The point is that it’s an excellent book and like all excellent books, it’s many things. I’m a fast reader by nature, but I also have almost no time these days and I still slammed through it in three nights.
That being said, if you have an adverse reaction to hard sci-fi and the tech exposition that it requires as a genre, you may not like it. For anyone else, even if you aren’t big on tech stuff, you should love it.
FINAL VERDICT: ***** (5 stars, I’m full and I still want more!)