The Lore of Prometheus: A Review

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.


Today I want to have a chat with you about The Lore of Prometheus: A Modern Fantasy Thriller, by Graham Austin-King. This was supposed to be a sci-fi, of course, but then you get into the whole ‘scientific explanations for superpowers’ thing that is a facet of the urban fantasy genre – and The Lore of Prometheus is certainly that – and it all gets a little complicated. Let’s just say this was a sci-fi and move on.

I was intrigued by this even before I started. It seems to be an urban fantasy, or military fantasy set in the modern era (ish[1]), which I’m not super familiar with. Steve McHugh liked it enough to get a comment on the cover, which is frankly good enough for me. Sarah Chorn also liked it – Austin-King has certainly played the connections game with the  indie author clique, and fair play.

Now then, to business:


John Carver has three rules: Don’t drink in the daytime, don’t gamble when the luck has gone, and don’t talk to the dead people who come to visit.


Heh, oh dear.

No, I kid, this was a fun way of launching into what turned out to be a very atypical sort of story about a grizzled Kabul-flashbackin’ veteran down on his luck playing blackjack and then getting in a fight with money lender goons. I didn’t know what to expect, but let’s just say the opening was misleading and you want to keep your eyes on the fact that this is an urban fantasy / sci-fi story. Because I lost sight of that once or twice and it was disorienting.

What, while we’re on the subject, is the deal with crime lords having a guy they loaned money to beaten up and dragged into their presence to ask where their money is before the money is even due to be repaid? That’s a dumb trope, and it seems to happen a lot. I get that it’s a way of setting up that the protagonist can fight but the antagonist fights dirty, and gives us a sense of stakes and removes sympathy from what might otherwise be a somewhat ambiguous money-lending arrangement, but it is pretty tiresome.

John Carver (I had to have a chuckle at the action hero name) is haunted by the ghosts of his squad, reminders of his failures – and more than that. It’s a very cool literary device (but it’s more than that too). When his money woes drive him back into the arms of his shady private-security probably-assassination-pimp Jim McCourt, it seems like things have hit rock bottom. Then he’s captured and locked up in a secret lab. Why is he there, and what is the Miracle of Kabul?

We shift focus from the first-person Carver point of view to third-person and the other main protagonist, an Australian woman named Mackenzie who also gets captured and locked up in a lab. She is tied to some sort of frame for days? Weeks? Fucking ages, anyway, same as Carver, and they’re fed and given water through tubes, and essentially tortured Deadpool-movie style to make their superpowers manifest. There is no mention of them pissing and shitting themselves or being maimed by the long confinement. None that I noticed anyway. I’m going to assume Austin-King did his homework and was squeamish about making the sexy Australian nurse with flame-powers any less sexy by describing how she shat all over her own legs. But she definitely did and the reader deserves to know about it.

Oh you noticed that bit about fire-powers, huh? Yeah, the mad scientist in charge of the lab is trying to collect powers, X-Men Origins: Wolverine-style, and using a variety of psychotic methods like Kevin Bacon in X-Men: First Class. It’s a whole thing. And not actually as connected to Marvel comics as I’m making it seem, although “regular soldier caught up in evil experiment, then superpowers” is impossible to make sound unlike a Marvel comic. And that’s okay.

A significant part of the book, then, is a Monster of the Dark-style kind of build-up as they attempt to express, and then train, the abilities of these superpowered individuals. It gathers to an eventual climax that is no less fun for its inevitability, as the protagonists break out, meet up, then have a daring escape-and-payback arc. I won’t spoil it but if I did, and this would otherwise have come as a surprise, I’m sorry. I don’t think it was meant to be a surprising series of plot points, so much as a gathering of military, superhero-origin and mad scientist tropes that are very satisfying and original in their execution.

I didn’t actually think I would be into this kind of plot and protagonist. Imperialist (specifically white guys in the Middle East) war is such a turn-off, but the author was clearly aware of the potential for unfortunate stereotyping here that it was largely avoided (as least as far as this undeniably coloniser-descended reader is concerned). Not only that, but Carver was kind of self-aware as well. Which is nice, and made him a lot more bearable to read.

Sex-o-meter

The story had a long build-up with nothing, and then – really abruptly, and seemingly for no other reason than the two protagonists were in the same room together and had interlocking parts, they had awkward wound-cleaning-scene sex (a classic action standard but another one that never makes sense) … and then got married. It was kind of adorable but I was left baffled as to why. The sex-o-meter is just flashing a Tickle-Me Elmo drawing with a really realistic equine penis photoshopped between his little furry Muppet legs, it’s vaguely distressing but not particularly sexy. I don’t know what it means in terms of an actual rating, but the troubleshooting chapter at the end of the sex-o-meter manual says than the Elmo icon displays when there’s definitely sex in a story, but the only justification for the sex is that  .

Gore-o-meter

We’re treated to some moderate body horror in the lab, and military / espionage themes throughout. There’s decent action. Two and a half flesh-gobbets out of a possible five.

WTF-o-meter

Other than “how is this sci-fi?” I’m left without much to go with on the WTF-o-meter. And the fact that there was a lab makes this as much sci-fi as X-Men is, and I certainly wouldn’t call X-Men fantasy. It’s a happy blend, and so I will allow it. Weirdly the WTF-o-meter gives this another flashing Elmo picture but this Elmo is dressed as Batman, and fortunately has no visible phallus. He does, however, have Batman and Robin nipples. Six of them, actually. No, wait, seven. Or six and a very tiny phallus. No, it’s seven nipples. We’re done here.

My Final Verdict

It feels weird to say this, but maybe this is an “urban fantasy” that could have benefited from being written more as a progression fantasy narrative. The powering up and the torture and stuff, not to mention that great OP’d culmination, would have been better paced and contextualised that way maybe. Still, as much as I have rambled and sniped throughout this review, I had a good time reading this story. Three stars on the Amazon / Goodreads scale!

 


[1] The story was set in post-Taliban Afghanistan, references the Queen of Great Britain and does not talk about the Corona pandemic, which places this “modern-to-near-future” sometime specifically and exactly in 2019. The book was published in 2018 so I suppose I nailed that estimate. I don’t say this to mock or complain – authors are not responsible for predicting stuff at this stupid level of granularity – but this was just a particularly unfortunate series of events that made this story’s setting outdated almost as soon as it was written. Oof.

About Hatboy

I’m not often driven to introspection or reflection, but the question does come up sometimes. The big question. So big, there’s just no containing it within the puny boundaries of a single set of punctuationary bookends. Who are these mysterious and unsung heroes of obscurity and shadow? What is their origin story? Do they have a prequel trilogy? What are their secret identities? What are their public identities, for that matter? What are their powers? Their abilities? Their haunted pasts and troubled futures? Their modus operandi? Where do they live anyway, and when? What do they do for a living? Do they really have these fantastical adventures, or is it a dazzlingly intellectual and overwrought metaphor? Or is it perhaps a smug and post-modern sort of metaphor? Is it a plain stupid metaphor, hedged around with thick wads of plausible deniability, a soap bubble of illusory plot dependent upon readers who don’t dare question it for fear of looking foolish? A flight of fancy, having dozed off in front of the television during an episode of something suitably spaceship-oriented? Do they have a quest, a handler, a mission statement, a department-level development objective in five stages? I am Hatboy. https://hatboy.blog/2013/12/17/metalude-who-are-creepy-and-hatboy/
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2 Responses to The Lore of Prometheus: A Review

  1. Pingback: Da Vinci on the Lam: A Review | Hatboy's Hatstand

  2. Pingback: The Miranda Project: A Review | Hatboy's Hatstand

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