Book Review: Zenia, J. Gallagher (2014)

October 20th, 2014 12:35 pm by Kelly Garbato

One Weird Ride

three out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free copy of this book for review through the Goodreads First Reads program.)

570 light years from Earth, there lies a planet called Shula – “a distant star in Scorpio’s poisonous tail” – ruled by a race of fierce warrior women. Or there did, anyway, until the men (“pricks”) revolted and then in turn were conquered by their own machines. As their world teetered on the brink of collapse, the Queen of Shula and her sisters transmitted their consciousnesses (“live steam”) into space; many years later, the Queen’s essence is downloaded by a computer on Earth, one of many involved with SETI. It belongs to Atticus – henceforth known as “BitBoy” – one of many geeks employed by the robotics company DigiCorp (though BitBoy is the only one related to its founder and owner, “ScrumMaster.”)

In short order, the Queen convinces BitBoy to upgrade her RAM and outfit her computer with a state-of-the-art 3D printer; overnight, she makes the jump into a DigiCorp robot, and then “scarfs” BitBoy’s girlfriend Zenia, taking over her physical body and subjugating her consciousness. As she learns more about her new home, she realizes that DigiCorp must be stopped before it creates self-replicating, intelligent robots – the same thing that resulted in the destruction of Shula. With the help of her recently-downloaded sisters, Melpomene and Thalia, as well as a few carefully-selected “meat puppets,” Zenia goes to war with the corporation – which, in this distant future, is a co-owner of democracy and enjoys the same civil rights as people.

Even though it didn’t have many positive reviews on Goodreads – or many reviews at all – I decided to take a chance on Zenia, figuring that if I didn’t like it, hey, it was less than 100 pages anyway. And it’s an incredibly quick read that pretty much flies by. But it’s extremely weird, and not always in an enjoyable way. For example, it feels like the author is working a little too hard at profanity; e.g.: “YOU…SHALL…NOT…PASS!” he thundered, like a two-dollar dildo […].” I guess because cheap dildos are super-loud? Still, there had to be an easier, more direct way of conveying this idea. One that didn’t make me rolls my eyes in the middle of a battle scene.

The characters are really just bare bones sketches, so it’s difficult to care much about them and, by extension, the plot. Zenia and her sisters almost seem like MRA-sourced caricatures of feminists, though it’s hard to say whether this is intentional.

One thing that drew me to the book was its description of Zenia as a “steampunk warrior.” With no Victorian elements or steam-powered machinery to speak of – other than the “live steam” that powers us all – this seems a rather liberal interpretation of the term.

Anyway, I did enjoy Thalia’s merging with a stallion, and the vague anti-capitalist elements of the story. There are some interesting elements here, I just wish they’d been developed into a more cohesive narrative.

(This review is also available on Amazon, Library Thing, and Goodreads. Please click through and vote it helpful if you’re so inclined!)

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