This review is part of my judging effort for SPSFC2. For a little intro to the whole thing and an explanation of my judging style, see this practice review.
Running behind schedule again, let’s jump right on to Release Day, of the Release Day saga, by Ryan Matthews.
Like Edge of the Breach, this one turned out to be a multi-POV story and all the POVs were written in the first person. And there’s quite a few POV characters in this one, and they’re all a bit difficult to tell apart – at least at the outset. It takes a while to settle into it and get them all sorted out. I guess ultimately multiple first-person narrative isn’t for me, but I don’t intend to penalise the book for that. No sir.
It’s the future. The damn bugs took over, possibly dropping an asteroid on Puerto Rico, we don’t know. Seriously though, they kind of just spore-egged in and started overwhelming the ecosystem, and before humanity knew what was happening the multi-species alien arthropods were everywhere.
Universal basic income and leisure time made people uncreative and weak, so we lost the fight, naturally. No drive, no desire to work anymore, all that entitlement … I’ll level with you, I almost stopped reading in disgust at this plot point but it didn’t seem like a major one. Anyway, the remaining humans quickly made underground cities and hunkered down to regroup and figure out a way to win. And then like four hundred years went by.
Mind you, it’s not as if the can-do attitude of the underground cities actually created a healthy or functional civilisation, so maybe that was the point? I also would have accepted an emergent storyline wherein the douchebags and sheep who bought into the perpetual busywork culture and the elitist oligarchies that came with it were moved underground, while the well-adjusted people found a way to live doofy and innocent on the surface. Sort of a Morlocks / Eloi thing. There was a hint of that, but … not really. Only kind of. I don’t know. Make up your own mind on that one, I was just trying to puzzle it out.
The point is, the idea that a universal basic income and sane working hours leads to a decline in productivity and industry, let alone creativity, is the complete fucking opposite of what studies (AND HISTORY) have shown. I mean sure, if you want to make the premise “humans are lazy and stupid and greedy and shitty”, I’m right there for it. But whatever. Not the point. Moving on.
So there’s this bunch of people living in pod cities under the ground while attempting to buy time to kill the bugs. Every “Release Day”, a bunch of people are sent to the surface to fight the bugs and … battle their way to another pod, where they … earn their citizenship, and all that.
No further references to the Starship Troopers movie will be necessary at this point.
On a technical level … the text in the ebook was sometimes grey and sometimes black, what’s with that?
Ugh, okay anyway, so there’s more to the story than meets the eye. People are just getting slaughtered each Release Day, nobody seems to be getting their citizenships, and it’s just a way to control the population? We meet a few of our heroes at this point, as they graduate from the communal childhood mode (which is super interesting as a dystopian / survival concept by the way) and are trained to prepare for Release Day. There’s some drama, and we get to know them all a bit. To be honest a lot of them are kinda jerks. One of them beats the tar out of her boyfriend (good) for being a cheating dipshit, and her friend (with whom he cheated on her) came along for the adventure. I won’t spoil the little personal and political stories that take place around the characters, but they’re not bad.
What happens next is an exciting and creature-action-packed adventure as the heroes make their way across hostile alien-infested country in an attempt to take down bug central. It was a pretty engaging read!
Some hanky, no real panky. Makes sense since they’re all getting ripped apart by alien bugs and having revolutions and stuff. Regent whatsisface scores with his estranged wife which is sweet. There’s a nice layering of representation and cuteness, but it’s not what I’d call horny. I give Release Day a Frustrated Groan Day out of a possible Release Day.
Now this, there’s plenty of. Not to go back on my commitment not to mention the Starship Troopers movie again, but there was a lot of gross bug action and a very satisfying variety of killings and maimings. Four flesh-gobbets out of a possible five.
There was a solid WTF rating on this book as well, I was impressed. Like, what’s with the bugs? What’s with the pod cities? What’s with all of it? Hmm. There’s also some cool references to mutants and hippies and all sorts on the surface, and the “transporters” of course. There’s plenty of people left out there after all, which is interesting. A fun blend of intriguing plotting and classic WTF. I give it a Doogie Howser wearing a Stetson hat out of a possible Barney Stinson wearing a Doogie Hinser hat.
My Final Verdict
I really needed the twist to be that the UBI lazies on the surface found a way, and the grind culture fuckledusters in the pods had been isolating themselves from the gene pool for the good of everyone. That wasn’t the twist, which is mildly disappointing. But there’s more to the story. It ends on a cliffhanger as they head off into the main adventure, which left me a little cold. At 15% into the book I made a note: “Two stars, pending something fucking spectacular in the last 85% of the book.” While I wouldn’t go so far as to say it was spectacular, the story definitely solidified and the characters turned into a sort of (admittedly faceless and sometimes difficult to distinguish) group I could root for. It settled down and was far more readable than annoying. So, fine, three stars it is.