Dammit Jeb Kinnison you made me break my “OH SHIT” button. Badly. Where am I supposed to find another one this time of year? It's all your fault. Seriously. And honestly, have you ever ridden public transportation? Have you ever missed your stop and had to do extra walking on tired feet because you couldn't wait to see what was next? Your latest book, Shrivers: The Substrate Wars 3 had me hanging on every word. It's hard to watch out of a window to see how close I am to my stop when my nose is stuck in an e-reader.
Seriously folks, this is a good one. Fans of the site (both of you) will remember that I have reviewed both of the first two books in the series, The Red Queen and Nemo's World and enjoyed them both but this is easily the best of the three. Once again we see the fight against Big Government and a crackdown on the dirty little guy, this time on an existential level. It's not even about a human government anymore. This one is all about the fight of humanity to survive against a force that is regulating the substrate. If you don't know what the substrate is, it's because you haven't read the first two books and that is a mistake you need to fix quickly. The links are listed below.
As a fan of Science Fiction and Fantasy, one of my favorite things is an epic plot and an existential threat. Kinnison got both of those into this book in spades. The Red Queen was about a renegade group of students rebelling against oppression. That's good stuff. Nemo's World was about setting up a government and what to do with dangerous criminals. It was a lot of fun as well. This one is not just bigger than either, it's bigger than both put together. The impressive part about the whole thing is really about how well Kinnison humanizes it though.
The previous cast of characters is all still here and they're all doing their thing. Some are perhaps a bit older, wiser and more mature but things tend to work that way in real life so that's hardly surprising. What is incredibly surprising is the inclusion of a young girl on whom the fate of the entire human race depends. Whether she is up to the challenge or not... well... read the book. I don't do spoilers. I will say that she gets put into her position because she is a unique young lady and that the decision is not made by a human being. Humans have friends among those who would try to kill them. And that's one of the things that I really, really enjoyed about this book.
Look, I'm okay with a cardboard villain if it fits the story. Battle: Los Angeles was a good movie that pretty much went "The bad guys are here to steal water and they're going to kill us all to get it," and left things at that. This book is not that way. Kinnison's villains are every bit as much motivated as they are dangerous and they have very clear motivations that MAKE SENSE. I get the fact that alien reasoning may not always be obvious to a human mind, especially given the fact the motivations of a person from another human culture can be opaque at times. Still, the enemy, known as the First because they were the first culture to discover the substrate, is looking to perpetuate their own existence against anyone they see as a threat. New species are, to them, a threat to take up the space they need to live. The Shrivers that Kinnison named his book after are their method of doing so. Nuclear annihilation awaits those that aren't unique and impressive enough.
I have to admit that I was a bit skeptical about the ability of anyone to wipe out an enemy that has access to the substrate when I first read about it. That lasted until I had read a little further. It turns out that there is a fairly simple way to mess with a computer program (a virus) and that a society who has had access to the substrate for billions of years is better at using it than we would be. Go figure. It works here though because it's so familiar. I had missed the possibility but the reasoning was sound and it made the story easy to follow.
This tome cooks from beginning to end. It just doesn't let up. Problems come up and are solved just in time to set up the next round of problems. I wonder if perhaps Kinnison didn't run out of mountains to drop on his character and decide to start using meteors instead. After all, they're plentiful and require less lift. Things go from bad to worse to OH SHIT and pretty much stay there until the last page or two when my least favorite character shows up. I don't know why Cliff Hanger is such a popular guy but I'd like to break all of his teeth. Then again, at least this means we'll be getting another sequel and that's a good thing.
The politics of the story drift a bit in the work as well. At first it was a plucky bunch of kids rebelling against an overreaching government. Then it was those kids a few years later finding a way to turn things into a government in which everyone has a say. Those were impressive. But now things are shifting a bit. Control of the substrate is control over the future or humanity and its use is restricted to just a few people who are planning to pass that control on to their children. This has potential to lead to a government even more repressive than the one they overthrew. So far they haven't gone down that road but the possibility to do so is certainly there. If Kinnison will steer his series away from that eventuality. If he does so it will be interesting to see how he pulls it off. So I'm waiting (im)patiently for the sequel to see what comes next.
Bottom Line: 4.75 out of 5 Micro Black Holes
Shrivers: The Substrate Wars 3
Self Published, 2015
The books in the trilogy are available at the link below: