Monday, September 15, 2014

Ecko Rising: A Review

Danie Ware's Ecko Rising is a mashup novel featuring a cyberpunk character from a dystopian sci-fi  world thrown into an apocalyptic, Dark Lord style, fantasy setting: tech versus magic. This novel is intended as the first in a series of three, with this novel stopping at a reasonable enough resting point, but not completely standalone in nature with regards to tying up loose threads in the storyline.

Danie Ware, originally from, East Grinstead in West Sussex, Great Britain (south of London on the English Channel), now lives in London with her son and two cats.  She has been a shop manager, actuarial technical clerk, document designer, ERM, kiss-a-gram girl, crew at the local theatre, a fitness instructor, and a member the Territorial Army, before becoming the publicist and event coordinator at the bookstore and specialty retailor, Forbidden Planet. one suspects it is these important retail and social-media connections which has helped push this book to the front of the marketing fore. Rarely has a first novel been so blurbed!

In an interview, she does show that she has some insight into the flavors of apocalyptia:
The apocalypse to avoid is the slow, strangling destruction of the planet, the critical overpopulation and struggle for resources, the death of our flora and fauna, and that final scrabbling bid to secure power and profit that won’t last anyway…
But look on the bright side - we do get all those pictures of abandoned theme parks.
In terms of the apocalypse I’d prefer? If I had to choose, it’d be the zombie version, Pavlov or not—because I do still have a cupboard full of old re-enactment weapons, and can just about remember which end is the pointy one. Plus: the enemies are clear and obvious and you won’t wind up in a cell for thumping one with a sword.
Or, for pure glamour points, maybe the epic meteor strike? Five minutes of frenzied Instagram goodness, and then BOOM.

She notes Michael Marshal Smith's Only Forward, as a must read, and I assume her mashup of genres was inspired by this work.

The originating world of our anti-hero Ecko, is that of a William Gibson-style techno dystopia.  The workers of the world are ground under with complacency drugs and housed in closet sized abodes, while the 1% get to play, and enjoy Machiavellian intrigues against each other.  The pawns in these intrigues are various bad actors, some of whom have a lot of technology worked into their physical features to give them something of an edge.  As one of these bad actors,  Ecko is a smart-alecky, fast, sneaky assassin, with a few tricks up his sleeves.

The first, relatively short portion of the novel, is filled with Ecko being on a stealth mission into a hostile corporate complex that turns bad.  In the explosive aftermath of failure, Ecko finds himself in a Tolkien, or maybe Fritz Leiber-like, fantasy world.

The fantasy world is played two ways in the novel (as noted in this video), one is that he is actually in a different world, and one is that he has been hooked into a machine and the powers-that-be are messing with his head.  Ecko vacillates between both possibilities, but tends to view it all as one big game: a game in which he is the anointed hero of the plot.  And as the author notes, he is about as unsuitable a hero for a fantasy plot as you are going to find.

Both worlds are fairly androgynous with males and females taking fairly balanced roles in the proceedings.  Although this isn't too stunning in the modern world of massive firepower, or a cyber-punk enhanced one,  it is a little odd in a fantasy setting where presumably muscles would normally count.  If you want everyone equal, why not just have people using poison weapons.  Would that make the fighting too unheroic?  Too unmanly?  The heroes and heroines are so over the top kick ass that it's not all that terribly realistic in any case.  Normal folks are just there as fillers in the casting.

She describes the magic as "elemental" with a passion-based delivery system.  Historically this tends to be the domain of the hedge-magic folks, because in real terms, being passionate about something is not always a terribly effective way to make a real change in the system: particularly if there is someone equally passionate in the opposite direction.  But I agree, the Dungeons and Dragons spell book approach is a bit cumbersome for an adventure setting; So passion it is.

So what you have is something of a the typical high fantasy quest, in a low fantasy setting, with a cyberpunk ninja-type who thinks he is the hero of a computer game.

Did I like it?  It was o.k. I give a qualified approval.  The combat, while fantastical, is well done. The evil villains are less stock characters than a lot of characters in supposedly realistic thriller, little less the  militia-apocalypse fare.  They are also fairly clever.  

Unfortunately, the many portions of interesting storyline and insight are mixed in with such stock fantasy and cyberpunk pabulum that you tend to get jarred out of the immediacy of the moment.  There is some odd, and to honest, often pointless shifting of viewpoints.  The novel would have been a lot more interesting with fewer points of view. Some of the folks, presumably put there for information purposes, The Bard (Roderick), The Demigod Savior (Rhan),  The Apothecary (Ress) work hard to suck the life out every scene they are in with pointless babbled ponderings.  In a world that is half played as a Matrix-style unreality, why on earth would we care about the Tolkien-like attempts at a mystic prehistory.  Particularly when much of the fare is as much low fantasy, as high.  Do we care what this gutter rat collapsed fantasy world's Gods are planning?  In net, it is somewhat interesting as a fantasy story.  If you don't like fantasy stories, I doubt this is one you will like.

We now come to our two descriptive (not qualitative) ratings: 1 to 7 with 4 the mid-point and 7 high. Realism does not include the cause of the collapse or apocalypse, but is otherwise an assessment of how close to today's world is the setting. Could you imagine your friends, or families living through the situation. Readability is not literary merits, but literally how quick and painless of a read.

The book is not realistic.  The author is more interested in story points, then in a depiction of the reality of the world.  Even within the fantasy world, the combat, though interesting, is very hero-based.  Only heroes' or villains actions will have an impact.  The likelihood that someone mundane will do anything other than die, or act as a witness to important events, is small.  Although the magical "spells" are not as powerful as in some fantasy settings, it is still very much a fantasy book: a 1.

Readability is a little low for a book with so much action.  There is a lot of philosophizing.  Given the length of some of these ramblings, it is often hard to understand the point of some of them. The length of 524 pages knocks it down one notch from the midpoint: a 3.


Harry Flashman said...

Sounds too complicated for my plebeian interests. I like fast paced action stories that aren't too cerebral. I suppose because while I'm always looking for ideas I primarily read for relaxation.

russell1200 said...

Harry: What makes it complicated is too many points of view.