The Antpod Faction is a science fiction book with a slight, but nevertheless significant, difference. Alex James quite openly admits that he writes his novels inspired by asperger’s syndrome, a condition which affects the author. I take care here not to say a condition from which he “suffers” because Alex James seems to be insistent we view the syndrome as “a difference and not a disorder”. He states that his characters’ struggles through life are struggles that may well mirror his own. I read about the author’s point of view before starting the book and found that this did affect some of my impressions as I proceeded through the novel. I’m uncertain whether reading that small piece of author bio initially was a mistake.
The world of the novel is one populated by organic androids, or antpods, following a spaceship crash on the planet Exolonn. In the prologue we are told that “since the crash antpods forgot their past” and, later in the story, the individual antpods involved are sometimes at fault when they also forget vital details. Although I’m not an avid sci-fi fan, coming from a generation of readers brought up on Isaac Asimov’s robots I find it difficult to accept that robots (for that essentially is what an android/antpod is) can “forget” anything. We are constantly reminded by the techies about how difficult it is to destroy the information stored on an old hard drive. And so throughout the book my potential enjoyment was also hindered by this piece of information stuck there at the back of my mind.
There are loads of interesting and fascinating ideas and concepts put forward by the author in this novel. For example the idea of male and female antpods who differ in size and shape, and to some extent in their attitude and sensitivities, although I feel that not enough is made of those gender differences in the book. If robots react to the wider world through their technology, ie. sensors, then how can this affect sensibility, a very human characteristic? In chapter 33 we read that Mase, the central character, finds that “officers were getting on her nerves”, but what does that mean in robotic terms? How organic are the antpods? Do wires replace neurons and nerves?
I liked the idea of “metasources”, resources available to the antpod population obtained, presumably, from the original mother-ship; the “bio-filter” a tub of regenerative liquids essential to the continued good “health” of an antpod; and “fading”, a euphemism used to describe the injury/damage to an antpod that may result in its “death”! There are many more of these concepts and there is a helpful glossary for the curious. Probably revealing too much of this detail in the telling of the tale would slow it down considerably. There are many occasions throughout the story where the action, battles etc, is impeded by too much exposition. For example in a fight scene it says, “Trolik ducked, and rolled to the side, being lucky that the initial stun weapon hadn’t shocked him for a second longer…” Too much information?
I have known three individuals with asperger’s syndrome and can accept their very literal and pragmatic way of speaking and thinking that is often used in this book, and of course one can see how it would apply to the antpods’ own dialogue. But when it occurred in the narrative then I found that rather tedious and a big obstacle to my enjoyment of the story. The narrative was very clunky and clumsy in parts and I found it difficult to determine whose thoughts were being described; often it alternated between the first person and the third, and there was switching of past and present tense within the same sentence. In chapter 11 in one paragraph there were nine out of fifteen sentences that began with the word “she”, a tiring style if it was deliberate. The quality of the writing was also affected by writing numbers as numerals sometimes but spelling them out at other times.
Essentially I found this to be a spy story with the obligatory battle between good and evil. It happens to involve a “race” of robotic entities with several characters taking centre stage. The main protagonists are Mase, Trolik, Roune and Zeika. Mase turns out to be the most accomplished of the antpods who, despite my misgivings along the way, I wound up liking and caring about. Science fiction stories are often written around either technological devices (robots, rockets, weapons etc), or conundrums of human interest (dystopia, morality, love, loyalty etc) and this is a brave attempt at combining both. It puts me in mind, as I stated previously, of Asimov, and also of Frank Herbert’s Dune – but it has a long way to go to reach the standard of either of those authors.
Rating: 3 stars (WOW BLOG)