30. The Circuit: Executor Rising by Rhett C. Bruno
*Published in June 2014, available now from Mundania Press*
The dream of human life after Earth has been realized-within a bedrock of crippling limitations. Humanity cannot travel beyond the solar system, which is replete with dead, lifeless rocks. Impressive, inventive structures allow people to eke out an existence in the barren wastelands of the Moon, Mars, Titan, and an asteroid called Ceres, but only a small elite enjoy anything resembling luxury. There is no Star Trek style terraforming, no warp speed. Yet neither is there an oppressive Central Planet structure, or an evil dictator (yet).
Bruno’s tempered vision of life after Earth is interesting because it manages to be pessimistic, but not quite dystopian. The Circuit's political and economic forces draw on familiar narratives from Herbert and Asimov, but reflect more contemporary sensibilities. The Circuit's economic transports of the necessary Gravitum element, and the New Earth Tribunal's comforting theocracy, are stop-gap measures to sustain, not spread, humanity. This stagnation leaves the solar system vulnerable to a veritable Game of Thrones in space-albeit with far fewer viewpoint characters and a much lower dial on diabolical scheming and irredeemable misery.
Cassius Vale, a primary viewpoint character, is perhaps the most difficult to relate to. He and his android creation ADIM (Automated Dynamic Intelligence Mech), are staging a secret coup against the oppressive Tribunal throughout the course of the novel, but his personality is more reminiscent of You-Know-Who than a popular rebel hero like Captain Mal. At one point, Vale, justifying genocidal actions, proclaims, "There are no monsters...only different perspectives." It's a chilling reply in context, as an army of his metal creations "mowed [some of the finest soldiers the Tribune had to offer] down like children zapping insects with magnifying glasses." Although ADIM remains relatively flat for most of this book, one wonders how he will use his superhuman powers in accordance with his beloved father/Creator's callous attitude toward human life.
Like much other science fiction, The Circuit explores the blurred lines between human and machine, but with a dark twist. The question is not whether androids can become human (Re: Data, Bicentennial Man), but whether humans can become mindless (or, more terrifying, fully aware) killing machines. Furthermore, if Cassius is a monster, how much more of a monster can the non-human ADIM become?
This theme is apparent in another viewpoint character, Sage Volus. Sage, a formidable redhead with a mechanical arm, is an Executor for the Tribunal. An undercover spy and assassin, she is sent to infiltrate the rebels on Ceres, to determine who is responsible for a series of missing Gravitum shipments (the reader, of course, already knows that Vale is at fault). Sage's struggle with her faith and her human vs. mechanical nature makes for a much more sympathetic, but still complex character. Sage's gender also makes her the target of particular violence and prejudices, that female readers will relate to and appreciate.
The most likeable protagonist, however, has to be Talon Rayne. Here is the rugged, tortured, self-sacrificing hero that readers will recognize. Dying slowly of the Gravitum exposure-induced Blue Death, Talon is fighting for his young daughter's future, with a dash of rebel cause thrown in. A ruling family of Ceres tasks him with stealing some Gravitum from the over-stocked Tribune, and unfortunately (or fortunately) for him, the undercover Sage joins his band.
The Circuit is a dark (and unfinished) creation legend, a Foundation for the 2010s. It's not as intricate as much other contemporary sff, and the character building is underwhelming in comparison to say, George R.R. Martin (though ages beyond Asimov), but the social and economic structures have enough complexity to be interesting while not being daunting to understand, as in, say, Herbert's universe. Overall, my greatest complaint is that the ending is woefully unresolved-a bold move for a first-time author, but one that I hope pays off in a sequel!
Received for review from the author.