Lynn Keith asked me to read his story "Heart of Stone". It is a science fiction that appears to take place Twenty Minutes Into The Future. I will examine plot, character and polish and then assign a grade.
This story is basically a game of keep-away. Connor Graham Stone is sailing the world with the "daughter" of his deceased girlfriend to give her a better life than a tool of the American military. The word "daughter" is in quotes because the child in question is a computer; the first sentient computer in the world.
The problem with this premise is that no one else cares about Joyce the living computer. The Chinese hunt Stone for a ring laser and because he killed one of their agents in self-defense. The Americans want him for the ring laser and a vague "national security risk" thing; either him selling them out or the stuff is stolen from him. They Americans don't appear to care which because the end result is the same. The Russians don't care about him or Joyce. Valentina proves as much when she says she couldn't convince her superiors that Joyce was special. Only two people even know she exists and neither of them is a villain. This blunts the narrative because the beginning is only indirectly connected to the middle.
There is no narrative thrust. Stone is all about staying off the radar and has no plan or goal beyond that. Furthermore, he is frequently out of focus. Many times there are long stretches where he and Joyce are off screen to make room for some other characters talking. Instead of a pair of protagonists, they feel more like living macguffins for the rest of the cast to fight over.
There's a lot of technical stuff. From sailing and the workings of computers or the internet to the components of a "water maker" or the actions of a patent office, it is fine grained stuff. When the Chinese government makes a worldwide search for a match to Stone's thumbprint, it has to go through the whole computer logic of it including priorities in a task list and all the different functions triggered. This goes on for pages. To quote one of the side characters, "I understood about half of that".
There are several extended sex scenes. There is no doubt that they are relevant, and in fact, the first two mark significant turning points in either the plot or character development. My problem is that they are so graphic. I wasn't expecting it. This is the sort of thing that one expects in a novel that is overtly sexual in nature. Thus, I was blindsided. In retrospect, I say it is a clever way to include physical intimacy between a solid and digital life form.
My thoughts on the ending are mixed. On one hand, it is the kind of ending l like; the conclusion of the book's conflict along with a couple loose ends that can shift the story's weight into the next adventure. On the other hand, I don't like this ending. The resolution feels abrupt and I wonder why it took five years of sailing to reach.
There are a lot of characters here and few have any significant development. Some only appear in one scene. I gave up trying to keep them straight and just thought I'd pick them up by osmosis.
Stone and Joyce have good development and a strong dynamic. Their dialogue is often fun and engaging but it is also weird. I call it weird because it has a number of contrasting dimensions.
Stone is helping Joyce's program to evolve which effectively means he is raising her as if she were a human child and she refers to her programmer (his girlfriend) as her "mother". He even has official custody of her and has to send regular videos to CPS showing what a good job he's doing (Joyce paints in an avatar of herself into the videos).
Much of their dialogue is composed of him issuing naval style orders. He gets mad when she stops obeying these orders.
Whenever Joyce says that she "loves" Stone, I don't get the sense that it is a child's love for her parents. It's the context. It's also the fact that she sends interactive constructs that she created into his dreams for mental sex.
Joyce starts off being pretty stoic and polite; much like one imagines a computer would be. The "Wagner wake up protocol" is pretty funny but her true personality doesn't develop until much later. She becomes an inquisitive and stubborn girl with a mischief streak and little mercy.
Stone is a nice guy who takes promises seriously. He likes sailing and writes travel articles. He's generally cool under pressure. Given the things he does in the name of keeping his promise, he has few limits.
The other characters are stereotypes.
1. Valentina is a Sensual Slav working for the Russian government. She can do nothing but flirt, flaunt her beauty and have sex with Stone or someone else. The effect this has on men is elevated to the level of mind control, like that of a vampire. At one point, she suggests that she could talk a man into cancelling his own surgery and the surgeon believes that she could do it.
2. The Chinese are all varying degrees of Yellow Peril. A.) There are boatyard customs agents who "officially/unofficially steal" Stone's gun to sell on the black market. B.) There's the security chiefs who detains him for being a "foreign devil" and pumps him for information because he used to work in the American military's R&D, and also brings in a computer expert to hack into his ship's computer looking for intellectual property to pirate. C.) There's a security field agent who delights in torture and thinks nothing or murder. D.) The top brass "permanently retire" any agents who displease them. When an agent exploits a cyber security flaw in order to prove that it was there, they send another agent to seduce him, get all his information, and then garrote him.
3. The Americans are arrogant bullies who use the Patriot Act as an excuse to do whatever they want. One of them bluffs indefinite captivity in order to shanghai someone into working for them because this person helped them under the table earlier. In another case, a different unit breaks into a patent office, detains the employees, and steals both solid and digital files in the name of "espionage". The office was about to sue them for copyright infringement and, because they couldn't possibly win in court, this is their way of handling it.
There are exceptions (Valentina is the only Russian who appears) but this is generally the shape of things. Perhaps it's due to them all being military. The exceptions tended to be outside the military or government intelligence.
I found a handful of typos; nothing major.
Trickster Eric Novels gives "Heart of Stone" a C
This has been a free review request. I received nothing in exchange for it except a free copy of the book.
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