Redeye by Michael Shean
Redeye by Michael Shean (Curiosity Quills Press, 2013) Wonderland Cycle 2 is Bobbi January’s story set some two years after the fight at the Genefex Corporation left her frightened for herself and desperately sad at the loss of Agent Thomas Cooley Walken of the American Industrial Security Bureau. She’s taken over the running of The Temple after Anton Stadil’s death and has kept a low profile. Now she shaken out of her quiet retreat by a message from a changed ex-colleague of Tom’s from the Bureau days. Then she was Arnold Kelley. Now he’s Freida Kelley. That’s the future of gender for you.
At this point, I need to give you the headline overview. We’re now more explicitly into the science fiction mode with some levels of uncertainty as to who everyone is and precisely what target(s) they should be aiming for. But none of these elements are sufficient, individually or collectively, to be classified as a mystery. In terms of narrative structure and style, therefore, we’ve rather left the first two books behind. We’re now recognizing that there’s an alien invasion underway and watching our key characters take the fight to the aliens. That said, it’s difficult to define sides in this conflict. Because the form of the invasion is transplanting alien personalities into human bodies, not all the transplants take. This has created a kind of fifth column with some “personality hybrids” supporting humanity’s cause. The problem for both sides is detecting when a transplant is failing and the extent to which the original human personality may be able to reassert control. Taking a step back, this is a very well-conceived plot, nicely picking up from the first in the series and taking us through to a delicate point of balance at the end.
The major problem with the first section of this book is the character of Bobbi. I don’t mind people living in a state of fear for some of the time. That’s an inevitable part of life. And given what’s she’s been through, it’s completely understandable she should feel so insecure. But, after a while, I found her heightened anxiety state rather tiresome. Again making allowances, she’s balanced herself in a difficult position. Like everyone else, she has legitimate curiosity and would like a better understanding of what’s going on. But she’s only too aware how fragile her position is. So she’s isolated herself. This is moderately responsible of her. If she’s going down in flames, she’d rather not see others going down with her. But with the loneliness comes a natural amplification of the anxiety and paranoia. She lacks objectivity because she denies herself the chance to talk with anyone else. So the arrival of Freida should share the burden and ease the fear. But that doesn’t happen. In part this is because Freida seems to have a reckless streak and engages in some highly dangerous activities without first checking with Bobbi. But once you’ve introduced yourself to paranoia, it tends to stay your friend. Trusting this person is a stretch. That’s why the steady presence behind the security of The Temple, is a better person to trust. She’s known Marcus Scalli for ten years. And lurking just out of sight (although somewhat unnervingly in earshot) is Cagliostro whose agenda is a complete unknown but his identity, later revealed, is interesting.
The first big set piece inside Data Nexus 231 is a bit of a cliché with the Wonderland mods, slowish-moving ghouls to contend with. It improves significantly from the entry into Tenleytown until they meet up with the titular Redeye who proves to be the saviour of the book producing a better balance as Bobbi gains in confidence and Redeye proves a powerful catalyst to directing the attack in what looks to be the right direction. As we go along, some of the additional historical background, particularly of the Eurowar, is quite interesting, and we get snatches of memory from the Yathi. When you put the whole thing together, it actually produces an alternate history for Earth starting in pre-Revolution France with influence slowly moving around Europe until the final beachhead is established in the US. But this is less impressive than the first two books set in this version of Earth which were both packed with a wealth of political and economic background information.
Put all this together and there’s a general lack of spark. The first two books had spiky prose and a lot of inventiveness. This is a professional job, but it spins the story out too far. It ticks the right boxes and the story moves along, but it would be better if it lost at least fifty pages. This is a shame. I had hoped Michael Shean would develop into a really interesting author for the longer term. On the evidence of Redeye, I’m less sure he’s going to convert his early promise into reliable and consistent performances. Hopefully the next book will get us back on track.
A copy of this book was sent to me for review.