Saturday, April 14, 2018

Apocalypse Alley (Blue Unicorn #2) by Don Allmon

Noah “Comet” Wu is back from a long deployment in a war zone and is looking forwards to some pleasant down-time.

Except his best friend JT has gone missing and he has to track him down. And the best lead he has is Buzz, hacker, possible - likely - criminal.

But he’s not the only one on the trail - violent, dangerous assassins are also following the lead. And there’s nothing like a constant fight for survival to increase sexual tension

This dystopian, high sci-fi, magical world setting all comes together in a Shadowrun-esque series that I have never seen to this degree. The combination of super futuristic technology - facing down a cyborg who is nearly immune to bullets and can control military-level robots and a fleet of cars remotely through the power of wireless networks. But at the same time you have a wizard walking around throwing fireballs around who needs to be fought with metaphors. And a complete wasteland still recovering from the fallout of an apocalyptic war is being healed by druids… but always with that edge. Like those druids? Are not restoring the forests by hugging rocks and playing with herbs. And we have references to things like the “second zombie apocalypse” which I’d love to know about.

I really like how cyberspace is presented here. In this ultra-technological setting cyberspace is an essential realm, a place where you do battle, a place of incredible power and potential that spills over into the real world. I like both the abstract description of things while, at the same time, resisting the urge to turn it into a tron-like alternate dimension which the characters run around in. But at the same time I love how real it is, with technology advanced to such a degree that there are people who never leave it - and there are people who experience everything through simulations on the internet which are not just visual but touch every sense. It’s both alien but grounded and every bit a real battleground. All made more real and poignant with Buzz‘s history and facing the very real choice of humans who have completely checked out of modern society.

Through the technology and the magic - and wizards and orcs and so much else - we also have a very nicely touched on world setting of chaos. The part I like about this is how elegantly it’s presented. We have mentions of different countries (including several which are clearly part of what was once the former United States), but no-one has to sit down and talk us through the disasters that struck or explain how the world works now because we see it. We see it because Comet is a mercenary who has fought in many many wars, telling us the state of the world. We see it because they pass through vast wildernesses where monsters roam which have clearly been abandoned. We see it because of the very limited presence of the police or authorities, especially when major powers clash. We see it because we have these huge quasi-legal and outright criminal organisations with vast powers, influence and the ability to act with impunity. We even see it in little things, like the high end car having a tracker in it so if it’s stolen the company that makes them can respond with over the top violence.

It’s an anarchic world and a very gritty dangerous world because of it, making for a lot of action, a lot of adventure, a lot of chaos all of which is both enhanced by and builds upon the super tech and the magic and the different species and telepathic spiders and sentient AIs and hackers who may turn your guns against you. It’s manic, it’s amazing, it’s exciting, it’s rich and it’s awesome

And the plot just runs with that. Car chases and explosions, drones and guns, cyborgs with ridiculous skills, mental wars through cyber space, flirting sexual tension by sending naked selfies that move and touch, sentient plants, dragons - it’s all there at breakneck pace.

I like that Buzz is cute. Not rippling with muscle, not small and delicate either - but still very cute and attractive. I find a lot of romance novels with gay lovers either go for The Most Excessive Of Muscles or dainty little waifs.

Their romance is fun - highly sexual and sexy with a lot of classic very-different people with multiple barriers between them but without antagonism. I like that a lot - too often we play the “we hate each other until we love each other” trope but I love that Buzz and Comet are very different people but still respect, are attracted to and slowly grow to love each other. I love how they appreciate each other’s skills and expertise. It is a rapid romance but what is also interesting is they acknowledge this - Buzz openly doubts whether it can be real because it is so rapid. But they’re clearly taking a chance

We do have some POC characters - Comet is part Chinese and part Pacifika and this is mentioned in his past but doesn’t inform his character a great deal: I feel he could have been a mercenary in any army despite the Asian references especially since his body has been so extensively modified. One of Buzz’s hacker contacts is Black as is both the elusive “unicorn” everyone is chasing and Dante who is the source

Women are more distant - Valentine is a dangerous and skilled assassin and hacker but she is an opponent. Dante and the blue Unicorn are both women - but also absent or unconscious for most of the book. There’s not a lot of close, constant female characters.

So this is two books into the series - both with a very very very hot romance (and normally I have so little truck with romance and even when I find them compelling I rarely find them hot. This is hot) a truly amazing world with an action packed really exciting story all with scads of originality I just want to roll around in and love. More more more more!