BOOK REVIEW: Simon Vector

Military science fiction is outside of my normal reading choices. I normally prefer comedic fantasy (Terry Pratchett et al), surreal tales of horror and paranoia (Philip K. Dick and Clive Barker) or urban fantasy (Charles De Lint). So when a chance came to review the new short novel by JAK HOLDING – the pen name of two authors John Jackson and Ken Chapman – I jumped at the chance to read outside my comfort zone.

I soon came to regret my decision.

Simon Vector is a new title in the EntryPoint series of books. Each EntryPoint novella e-book gives ‘prequel’ information on the main protagonists in the Simon Vector book. Perhaps if I had read any of those novellas prior to this I might have enjoyed Simon Vector, but as I haven’t, I found it hard to like any of the protagonists, let alone want to root for their survival throughout the entire grim book.

And “grim” is the best word to describe Simon Vector because it revels in grim depictions of nasty people doing violent and vile things to each other. Irredeemable sociopaths, vainglorious sadists, cowards, mercenaries and a species of alien so foul, that for the first time ever I wished for an entire fictional race to just be wiped out.

Most of the book’s narrative takes place on a prison planetoid called Alpha Draconis. An institution full of the craziest, deadliest, wretched inmates from all the nearby space sectors. The guards and support staff are not drastically different to the inmates, but the planetoid’s biting cold and facility technology keep chaos from becoming the norm. The first third of the book is mostly dedicated to describing the facility itself. When not reiterating how fatally cold it is, the book goes into plentiful detail on the xenomorph enhancements that the guards have. Super strength, agility, increased height, and the ability to constantly excrete terror-inducing pheromones, make the guards quite formidable opponents for the inmates. Most volunteers to receive the xenomorph enhancements come across as ‘jarhead’ thugs, ex-servicemen who opt for cushy civilian duty.

“The thought of her cheered him. He might be stuck rutting with baselines, but he had his pick of the prettiest ones. They were weak, and slow, and practically blind and deaf, but what did you need in a woman really? She had all the parts that mattered. And if they cried a little, well. That wasn’t so bad”

Unknown to the prison Governor and his staff, a human-alien hybrid is secreted in the lower levels of the prison and was being experimented on by the staff physician, a Dr Kong. After Kong’s suicide, his replacement Dr Feen discovers the hybrid (who is also the missing war hero Simon Vector) and thinks that deciphering Kong’s notes are the best way to secure a permeant transfer from prison duty to anywhere else. Poor Dr Feen doesn’t know that the military technology company that runs the prison facility, are searching for Vector and Kong’s notes. They desperately need to reverse engineer the alien technology Vector is now a hybrid of, to keep their competitive edge in the military biotech market.

I am fairly certain that I am not spoiling the book by saying that at some point hostile aliens turn up. The previous battle with the aliens known as Harvesters or Vendak, is mentioned on the first page. When they do turn up they use biotech to turn any humans in reach into zombie slave soldiers called Necroids. Necroids are made up of random human body parts fused to any nearby technology that could conceivably be utilized as a weapon. The alien speech (when they do communicate) swings from what reads like terrible ‘engrish’ to the hammiest of melodramatic monologuing. The first time one of the characters meets an alien they sound like this:

“You are Vendak, as am I … Despite your flaws, we are congregation. You are incomplete. You can be made whole. You are my brother and I am yours. You will return with me to rejoin the fellowship.”

Half a chapter later and the same alien is spouting vitriol like a template Shakespearian villain:

“Demon .., Apostate! Like a seraphim, you wield great power. Half-monkey! You are mutilated. You are anomaly. I will shatter your spine and carry your broken body back to the faithful to be vivisected.”

I am definitely not the target audience for this book. I found it predictable and tiresome to read. The copious action set pieces that are the last two-thirds of the book weren’t exciting, and the repetitive descriptions of gore got tiresome quickly. Sometimes a reader’s imagination can easily outpace the descriptions of the abominations being witnessed by a particular protagonist. Around the fifth or sixth description of a Necroid composed of a reanimated torso with industrial enhancements hastily grafted on, I just stopped caring what the Necroids looked like. Blades for hands, blades for feet, endless gouged out or exploded eyeballs, a parade of bulging tongues, a river of badly sutured or stitched wounds:

“They were so many slaughtered, mutilated, and reassembled children of Frankenstein”.

This is such a well written line that I was disappointed that the next three paragraphs were dedicated to further describing the same imagery. And that is one of the main faults of this book. The writing style makes reading it drudge work. The occasional nice turn of phrase is often strangled by the overwhelmingly terrible writing, and even worse pacing.

Simon Vector would make a very entertaining sci-fi military film. There was a definite screenplay quality to the language used. Character realizations where often presented in a single paragraph with a single sentence underneath, almost as if trying to force what would on-screen be a dramatic beat. The writing pacing often felt as if it was just plodding (or in some cases lurching), from one visceral description to another;

“Simon stretched. The shuttle thundered. Drills fell. Energy beams leveled buildings. Human beings screamed. Lives ended. Necroids menaced.”

The above quote brings me to another annoying linguistic quirk in this book. For about the last two-thirds of the book pretty much everyone not alien reacts to everything by screaming. Marines scream, citizens scream, even necroids scream. The only being who never screams is Simon Vector himself, and being turned into a hybrid seems to have robbed him of the capability to portray any emotions at all.

If you like your military fiction full of set pieces, and characters you love to hate, as well as aliens that resemble eldritch abominations, then Simon Vector might be your thing. I found precious little to like or enjoy about the novel other than it’s brevity. I often found myself  wishing that I was reading the screenplay or watching the anime instead of having to wade through this particular story in novel form.

TL:DR; I didn’t like this, but I have never read any hard-boiled military sci-fi before. At only 244 pages Simon Vector is fairly short, and as an ebook fairly cheap. If you like B-movie style military science fiction, then Simon Vector could be a nice short tale for you.

Rating: 1/5
Reviewer: Faintdreams

Simon Vector is available in dead tree format for £7.99 at most online bookshops. The Kindle e-book edition is available for just under £3.00 / $4.00 online. More details of the possible continued adventures of Simon Vector, and other EntryPoint novellas can be found at http://www.simonvector.com/. You can read the first chapter for free online at – http://www.simonvector.com/read-an-excerpt.

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