This review is part of my judging effort for the SPSFC. For a little intro to the whole thing and an explanation of my judging style, see this practice review.
My latest read was Silicon Override, by Shawn Ketcherside. Let’s take a look, shall we?
This action-packed techno thriller started in a fairly muted way, with a nice buildup of sympathetic and relatable characters (Chase and Abbey, and arguably Doctor Edwards who I immediately pictured as Sigourney Weaver and to be honest that was a difficult one to shake so I just went with it). Maybe a bit more of a hook is needed to pull the reader in. If you’re going to have a Jurassic Park-style Hammond-video intro that the protagonist doesn’t listen to, then make either the information in the video or the protagonist not listening to it the main point of the chapter. And if you go with the latter, the protagonist needs to do something else interesting, like eat a bunch of sunflower seeds and spit the husks all over the exposition-giver.
What am I talking about?
Well, Chase has a backstory and it’s important to the narrative, but at the point we were just starting out I had to wonder why he had worked so desperately to get in on the ArcSIS project and was so desperate to work there (in ‘app development’, which … okay I’ll get to that), but then so aggressively refused to take part in viewing the introductory video, or any kind of preparation for the job, or the orientation even though he was being given a personal orientation tour and assistance by the female protagonist he was definitely kind of super into at first sight, or … well, any of it. Just didn’t make sense to me why Chase’s motivations and actions were so unclear and he was going into ArcSIS with such a vague yet churlish yet super-keen yet meh attitude. That did fold kind of nicely into his ultimate fate and his lack of an emotional aura (I’ll get to that too), though. So, okay.
Also, I’m afraid I completely missed what ‘ArcSIS’ stood for or meant. It’s a cool name and stuff but I somehow managed to not see it expanded anywhere. I’m pretty sure that’s on me, though.
ArcSIS is a little city under the sea, a technological wonderland isolated from the world. The potential of its construction and setup is unlimited. The things all the scientists who live there could be doing is very exciting. And the inclusion of all the necessary behind-the-scenes people (and making them into main characters) was really great the more I think about it. Those people are necessary, and often forgotten, and you can tell that Ketcherside gets that. It could have been … okay, stay with me on this.
You know how, in Gremlins 2, there was this high-tech self-sustaining smart tower with a bunch of office grunts but then also a freaky lab run by Christopher Lee where they were doing, just, tons of weird shit? This was that, only it was also the ocean lab in Deep Blue Sea.
So, as tradition demands in such a setting, a bunch of gung-ho mercenaries go full Dennis Nedry on that shit and everything goes to Hell in a handbasket. Their appearance and interaction with Sigourney Weaver, and everything that happens with them, is weird but oddly readable nonsense. I had fun.
Should Chase have sat down at some point and explained clearly why he wanted to work in app development in this incredible sci-fi lab? Maybe. Should Doctor Edwards have explained why Chase needed to be reassigned to some kind of management role? Sure. Should Abbey … okay, you know what? No notes on Abbey, she was great. Her weird superpower was perhaps somewhat surplus to requirements, but damn it, it was interesting.
I loved that, for a while there, it seemed like the day was going to be saved by the junior analyst grunt who was actually reading the boring data and double-checking figures and actually spotted a catastrophic problem. That was a cool little side / intro drama and definitely made me like Abbey way more than Chase.
I was less fond of the fact that, considering the fact that this was an undersea super-lab, very little of the story seemed to focus on the fact that they were under the ocean. I’m not saying there had to be a genetically engineered hyper-intelligent security octopus (although there objectively should have been), but the main point was that they had no easy way to get to the outside world or communicate with anyone, and that could have been done underground, or in space, or in Clamp Tower in the middle of New York City. The ocean needs to be a character in an undersea sci-fi setup.
As I was reading this story, I thought to myself that it definitely wouldn’t be out of place in a lineup of TV shows and movies where there are intricately-set-up and dangerous settings, lots of dudes with guns, and a gross but unique zombie outbreak scenario. There are good examples and bad examples of such adaptations, but Sigourney Weaver would definitely have to carry any TV show or movie that got made out of this one. I’d still watch the shit out of it, though.
The male and female protagonist have an immediate thing for each other and eventually share a tender kiss. The beefy head of security is doinking the male protagonist’s mum off-page. I award Silicon Override one very small piano player and accompanying musical instrument out of a possible Carry On movie.
The gore wins the day in this one, even if it wasn’t too explicitly written. Lots of firefights and cold-blooded executions, tons of zombie violence. Four flesh-gobbets out of a possible five for Silicon Override.
The phrases you’re kidding / joking, and you can’t be serious, were used just a little too regularly and at a certain point I started to get a funny surreal jolt every time a character said it. At no point in the story was shit not serious, so why anyone would be joking … I know it’s a figure of speech but it’s – anyway. I also liked the fact that different people were using different terms – Trax, Initialized – instead of zombie. Which nobody seemed to even lampshade as a term they could be using (except one time, someone throws the z-word, but that’s it). Also out of nowhere they decided the group noun for the zombies was pod, which was at least sort of aquatic even if it was the only thing that was. Adrian’s increasingly cataclysmic inability to take responsibility for his own actions was hysterical. And the cyber-sphere and AI point of view stuff was fascinatingly imaginative. I’ll give this a Lawnmower Man movie out of a possible Lawnmower Man Stephen King short story. That is, very close to one another in WTF terms, but on inspection nothing alike in any way.
My Final Verdict
When you decide to combine mundane-conflict office narratives, a mother-son drama, an undersea lab getting overthrown by mercenaries, a greedy multinational corporation with dark motives, a bunch of utopia-seeking scientists, a zombie outbreak with a nanocyte twist, a junior analyst who can see people’s emotions and a lovable-nerd IT Guy plucky comic relief, that’s definitely a choice. With so much going on, the result was at once page-turning and cacophonous. I’ve got to give Silicon Override two and a half stars, which I’ll bump to three for the Amazon and Goodreads scale for the sake of the endearing banter between Chase and Rider.