A bit of snark to lighten up your Friday afternoon: my review of Matt Forbeck's Amortals (2010), reprinted from SFX magazine. In retrospect there may have been a bit of a mismatch between reviewer and reviewee, although I thought the concept sounded quite entertaining when I said yes to the assignment.
This was the same month I got Tricia Sullivan's Lightborn. You win some, you lose some.
On picking up a thriller, this reviewer has two main expectations: macho posturing and page-turning entertainment. Amortals signals a commitment to the former from its very first line ("Getting killed always gave me the worst hangover"); the latter, alas, is absent.
In 2168, secret service agent Ronan wakes from death into a freshly cloned body, for the eighth time in 150 years. This time, though, he hasn't fallen in the line of duty; he's been kidnapped and murdered. His new mission is to find out who targeted him, and why.
A story like this has to be fast-paced; give the reader time to think, and they'll be tripping over plotholes and clunky dialogue left, right and centre. Unfortunately, the narrator of Amortals regularly feels the need to spend whole paragraphs on such vital issues as clip-on ties and the fact that paramedics tend to take patients they've picked up to hospitals that are close by. Even when not giving detailed directions to the family cabin in Wisconsin, the prose stays tuned to monotone: I did this, then this, then this.
It would be bearable if either the murder mystery or the story's SFnal aspects were remotely compelling. They aren't. Forbeck's ideas are so familiar from other, better SF that you'll be able to guess whodunit 200 pages before the murderer has to explain all to our dim hero. In the meantime, you'll be gnashing your teeth in frustration at characters so slow on the uptake about the parameters of their own world that they're shocked, shocked at cloning technology being used to create multiple clones at once. Last-minute plot twists from nowhere only underline how inept it all is; avoid.