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.
Next up for Team Space Leftovers and the SPSFC is Quantum Dark: The Classic Sci-fi Adventure, The Star Rim Empire Adventures Book 1, by R.A. Nargi.
He’s not lying, that is classic sci-fi adventure.
After bringing me in with a perfect little foreword and an entertaining Raiders of the Lost Ark introduction to the space grave robber (complete with navigation of space booby traps and inevitable space betrayal at the moment of relic-acquisition), Nargi delivered admirably on what I viewed as an ambitious promise. It wasn’t paradigm-shifting or ground-breaking, but that wasn’t the promise anyway. It was damned entertaining is what it was.
In fact, the prologue itself was enjoyable for its own sake but I can’t say I was gripped. I kept on through it because of the promise, and the actual start of the story revitalised my interest. And that’s fine, because at its heart Quantum Dark is nothing if not a study on paternal legacy, and meeting – and then exceeding – it.
I’m … actually not sure why it was called Quantum Dark. I only saw “quantum” mentioned once in the actual story, and it was here:
“I’ll work in parallel with the LVX.” He thumped his robot chest. “The quantum array in here is similar to a Kane lattice, so we can run inverted function Grover II algos on your dataset.”
I didn’t follow exactly what he was talking about, but remembered a phrase from one of my briefing sessions on computer technology. With enough time and qubits, nothing is out of our reach. Something like that.
So, I don’t know. Maybe it should have been called Quantum Dad. No, that would be dumb. Not that. But not not that, either. Just putting it out there.
From our Raiders of the Lost Ark prologue, we’re treated to Henry Jones (…Jr?) going full James Bond, or more accurately Bruce Wayne. Our hero is Jannigan Beck, or “Zapp Jannigan” as I was unable to keep myself from reading and seeing him, the son of Sean Beck the famous explorer – with a catch. Sean never made it back from the Belloqing he received in the prologue, so Jannigan has been filling in for him PR-wise for the past seven years. Jannigan isn’t really a hero, so much as a spoiled playboy who likes his hover-cars fast and his women toxic, although Nargi does immediately cut through this eye-rolling setup by showing us a little bit of hidden depth to the character. I wanted to dislike Jannigan but damn it, he grew on me.
Extra points for having the Rolling Stones on tour in the 24th Century, by the way.
This story has it all. Cool planet-building and structures, great alien monsters (if a little off-page for my liking), nice action and amazing alien cultures and species and worlds and relics … everything I love about sci-fi, although I would have been happy with even more info-dumping as always.
There weren’t exactly many surprises in the narrative, although there was plenty of originality and imagination in the setup. The world-building was great, the characters (by design) somewhat cardboard-cutout-y. Although, to further soften that, I will reiterate that they had solid complexities and dimensions written into them to make them interesting. Some notes I made along the way include:
- Not sure I get the clone angle. I get it, but … has Jannigan maintained two separate lives, as playboy Jannigan and reclusive Sean simultaneously? Too much scrutiny of that plot point makes it hard to believe it could work. Is the aging necessary if Sean supposedly youth-surgeries all the time?
- Mmm, Lir seems like a real catch, I can see why he got engaged to her.
- So, when is Zapp Jannigan going to find out Yates (successfully?) Belloq’d his dad? We haven’t seen Sean’s body so I’m going to assume he’s alive until further notice (obviously this note was cleared up by the end).
- We’re running a bit heavy on the aesthetic description of women and nothing much for the men, but it’s not too breasted boobily.
- Zapp Jannigan talks a bit too much about his real life and his uncle after they said he was Sean after leaving the briefing, because of the recording. Oops.
- Ooh, cthulians.
Now this is sci fi. Sorry, not sorry, but it is. And there’s plenty more in the series!
I’d argue that Quantum Dark has a lovable bot. But okay.
We end on a nice high-stakes climactic finish, with a big “Jones Boys” feel to the father and son team (in fact it’s actually literal, they use the term “Beck Boys”), mirroring the Raiders of the Lost Ark start with a Last Crusade ending. Very well played.
The main narrative starts strong, opening on a three-way (or the aftermath of one), which is exciting if a little uncomfortable in some of its character specifics. Still, it was handled nicely. Beyond that, there really wasn’t much time for sex although I suppose Jannigan and Preity had cute chemistry (showing his depth) and there was a strongly hinted connection between Jannigan and Chiraine (showing that, I don’t know, male characters and female characters have the universe stacked against them when they just want to get on with their fucking story arcs?). What separates this from other books I have read recently is – well, for a start Jannigan didn’t fuck anyone else yet, so he still has an opportunity to do the right thing re: his fiancée. Since I haven’t read further I can’t say for sure, but I reserve the right to drop my opinion of him a couple of notches. Anyway I’m rambling. Three dwarf bots out of a possible dwarf, bot and dwarf bot orgy for Quantum Dark.
There’s a fair amount of space adventure violence but it could have been a lot worse. The gore-o-meter is holding steady at two gobbets out of a possible five.
This book was a real treat, with lots of lovely WTF, alien races of different levels, artifacts and relics and phenomena. The Fountain is neat. The Ark of the Covenant, I mean the Kryrk was great. All of it was a lot of fun to read and the mysteries were explained just enough to keep them fascinating. I want to know more! A Borg Cube and a Cube from the movie Cube out of a possible Bandala.
My Final Verdict
What a fun story! I’m glad this one crossed my path and I’m going to try to check out more in the series when I finally get time. Four stars on the Amazon / Goodreads scale!