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 on the SPSFC first-stage checking slate, or SPSFCFSCS, is The Solid-State Shuffle, Sunken City Capers Book 1, by Jeffrey A. Ballard.
The opening of this book had an aggressively unapproachable mix of first and second person perspective going on in it, but I’m glad to say it didn’t hang around. The story itself was in first-person present tense and told from the point of view of Isa, a 5’9″ woman (not Amazonian!). Also along for the ride are Puo (a big ol’ Samoan dude) and Winn (Isa’s cataclysmically annoying lover, but – ah, excellent, he’s Over Six Feet Tall, yay). Together they form a little salvage crew, one of the new breed of criminals that evolved to take advantage of the rising sea level and / or coastal shifts that have put a bunch of cities underwater. Isa’s the boss, Puo’s the Guy in the Chair, and Winn is also there.
A fun heist on a submerged Seattle bank gives us the opportunity to see the crew in action. They’re pretty good at what they do, except for the banter part of it. Their banter needs work. Oh, some of it is amusing but for the most part I have to say it was a bit lukewarm. The crew’s mission is to make a bit of money and thus pay off the “Citizen Maker”, essentially the dude who installed career chips for them. This “one last job to pay off the loan shark” trope is of course familiar. What’s different in this case is a) it’s not one last job as far as Isa’s concerned, this is her life; and b) the motivation is neither resolved nor conveniently forgotten about by the end, which is usually the case with the dude the protagonist owes money to at the start of the story. It just sort of … hangs around as an unfinished thread. Not sure how I feel about that.
Anyway, the heist goes wrong – or rather it goes fine, but the solid-state drive they steal turns out to not be holding digital money, but currency of another sort entirely. And it belongs to a powerful local crime Boss. Who then contracts Isa and her crew to get to the bottom of who took it. And things begin to get steadily more dangerous and complicated from then on.
The characters are nicely done. Puo is lovely as the loyal best friend with a heart of gold and nobody deserves him. His fun stories about make-believe animal species and events were a highlight of the book and the exception to what I said earlier about the banter needing polish. Isa is increasingly revealed to be profoundly broken and traumatised, and kind of an arsehole as a result but her story is a tragic and sympathetic one. Winn is equal parts relatable and a giant fucking pain in the arse who needs to get with the program. Hayes and his Squeeze are pitiable. The villains are appropriately cutout. All in all this was a fun mob heist adventure with some neat twists and turns, cool world-building and a good satisfying ending.
We start our tale with Puo rating the sex Isa and Winn were having before the start of the book. Then Isa and Winn do an after-heist sex. Winn is a bit of a little bitch about everything if you must know the truth, but he fucks. Let’s see, The Solid-State Shuffle looks to be settling at a Sexual Processing Unit out of a possible Buxom Access Mammary on the sex-o-meter. I don’t even know what that means because I know nothing about sex or computers.
A solid amount of gore in this one, as befits an organised crime action type narrative. Good shootouts and a nice spree for closure. Three quivering flesh-gobbets out of a possible five.
There really wasn’t much WTF here, it was all pretty explicable. Decently hard and tame sci-fi, in fact I’d say it was barely sci-fi at all – and not in a bad way. It was just a Mission Impossible or an Ocean’s Eleven story set in the future, with a bit of adjusted setting and tech. One thing that did have me WTFing was the moment when, just after lecturing Colvin about not telling her things she needs to know, Isa doesn’t tell him a fucking ton of stuff. I get that if she’d been less cagey, the story might have resolved sooner and less dramatically, and the secretiveness is justified given Isa’s past and trust issues, but it still smacked of “so the story can happen“. Still, that was it. This is getting a Tom Cruise hanging horizontally from some straps to do a cool secret agent move, out of a possible same thing except he is underwater so the straps are just in the way, and then a loan shark eats him because it is a literal shark that got into the predatory loans business after Seattle was submerged and it swam into a bank and the rest is history, also they’re called apex predatory loans now.
My Final Verdict
This was alright! Look, I could go on at length about there being a certain painful something about a male author writing a female protagonist in first person narrative, but at least Isa didn’t breast boobily. I didn’t really need to know which parts of her were bare and which were dressed in ivy lace halter tops, but at least she didn’t breast boobily. In fact one of the only references to her “girls” as far as I could see was actually a pretty funny scene (and the only reference to her breasts was a really dark one) so I’m going to give it my Mediocre White ManTM Seal of Approval. It’s a literal seal that-
Three and a half stars. Let’s bump it to four for Amazon and Goodreads. We’re done here.
 Ballard isn’t exactly forthcoming about what happened a hundred-odd years ago to put a bunch of human infrastructure underwater. Is that to avoid committing to the climate collapse issue and making his stupider readers unhappy, or just because the how and why isn’t important and he didn’t want his characters to info-dump about it when they probably wouldn’t think or talk about it that much in the course of their workaday skullduggery? Let’s assume it was the latter.
 And can we just pause for a moment and shake our heads in sad condemnation at the fact that Ballard somehow failed to make loan sharks a part of his underwater crime ecosystem? I should dock him a star for that.
 Aha! This is the “solid-state” part of the book title. Now where’s the “shuffle”? Is it going to be a riff on the soft-shoe shuffle dance? A dance of crime? Or is it some kind of heist or grift lingo? The other book titles in this series are similar plays on existing terms, but they all seem to be different unless they all fit some theme I’m unaware of. Ah well.
 Hang on. Hang on. Ballard also missed the opportunity to make an “Ocean’s Eleven” joke in this heist story that takes place in an ocean filled with submerged valuables? Ooh, so, what, are you too good to make that joke? Huh? Well lah-dee-dah, Mister Highbrow. Say goodbye to your five star rating, fucko.
 I’m kidding, I’m kidding. It was going to be a four anyway. But now I’ve definitely done too many footnotes.