Tuesday, October 28, 2008

The Personifid Books

I know this is yet another review two-fer, but I think I'm doing it for a valid reason. I just finished reading both of R. E. Bartlett's books so I figured I'd save some bandwidth and post them together.

So let's get started with the first, namely The Personifid Project.

At some point in the distant future, humankind will develop the technology that allows them to locate human souls. This leads to the creation of personifids, basically artificial bodies. People can shed their natural bodies in an attempt to become functionally immortal.

The book's heroine, Aphra, works for Sevig Empire, the leading producer of personifids. One day, in the course of her duties, she overhears something truly horrible and soon, she's caught up in a mad chase. Sevig wants her badly, so badly he's sent out assassins and bounty hunters after her. Aphra's only hope lies with a couple who believe in something called the Tri-une Soul. But can she survive as her whole life is turned upside down?

To be honest, the writing in this book drove me up a wall. Bartlett did a lot of telling and not a lot of showing. She would simply inform us of what Aphra was thinking or feeling and it often came off a bit stilted. Now that might have been a creative choice. Aphra, it turns out, likes hanging out with robots and androids better than humans. It could be that the "telling" was a way to show us how Aphra's thought processes would be different after keeping that kind of company for most of her life. But it's hard to say for certain.

The other major problem I had with the book is the odd choice that Aphra makes at the end of the book, but I can't really get into it without revealing some major spoilers. Suffice to say, if I were in her shoes, going through what I did, I wouldn't do what she did. Is that sufficiently vague?

So it was with a great deal of trepidation that I picked up the sequel, namely The Personifid Invasion.

The story picks up with Aphra shocked to discover that her brother Antha has located their sister, Ashley. The problem is, she's a personifid now in the city of San Edhem. Aphra wants to go with Antha to find Ashley, but he won't let her. San Edhem is Interterrestrial territory and Aphra couldn't survive. So Aphra and company head off to San Edhem in the company of Nik, an Infiltrator, to track down Ashley. But will Aphra follow their advice? Or will the beguiling Datricius convince her to put her life in jeopardy?

I was pleasantly surprised. Bartlett's writing has matured since Project, and the "telling" seems to have given way to "showing." The plot made a little more sense as well. The spiritual aspects also shone through much clearer than in the first book and it had some interesting things to say, especially through the character of Gun. My only gripe is how quickly everyting got resolved, especially given Aphra's journey. Her storyline especially ends with a deus ex machina that seemed a bit contrived and too pat for my taste.

Both novels share the same strength. Bartlett's futuristic world is an interesting one. Robots, androids, intelligent computers, personifids, sky cars, it all adds up to an intriguing setting, one that she explores and exploits quite well. While a bit bleak at times, it's realistic and seems like a genuine possibility.

The one really glaring weakness of both books revolves around Aphra. To put it bluntly, she seems too weak. She's got flaws (who doesn't?), but she has little to no strength. At least, she didn't seem to have much if any to me. There were times when I groaned because I wanted her to stand up, take charge, that sort of thing, but she always seemed to leave it to other people. Perhaps her character arc isn't done yet. Who knows?

Regardless, Bartlett's books are an interesting foray into Christian science fiction.

1 comment:

Robert Treskillard said...

Great review, John. Sounds like we think alike!

I'd be surprised if the series was finished yet, and I bet Jeff has another book or two from Bartlett up his sleeve...