Sunday, March 10, 2013

Book Review: Sarcology by Steven Lyle Jordan

A scientist is being blackmailed.  Suddenly, the nature of the blackmail changes and begins to involve information about her current work on robots rather than her past indiscretions in college.  She realizes she has to seek help and goes to a private detective agency.  Naturally there is more to this blackmail than anyone realizes.  Much more.  So begins Sarcology, a novel that toes the line between science fiction, mystery, and romance.

I can’t get into too many details of the plot without giving away anything critical, but I can say that the novel has an underlying philosophical bent in spite of starting out as a seemingly by-the-numbers detective story with some sci-fi trappings.  It asks questions about the nature of consciousness, specifically the difference between a ‘conscious’ robot and a human, and how important those differences are if they are in fact present.  The way it is handled makes for an interesting twist on a common theme, following a tradition of sci-fi authors addressing these questions that started with Isaac Asimov. 

On the downside, I will note that the story gets off to a slow start:  The first half of the novel is dedicated to character development and sex scenes and as a result of this the plot doesn’t really get moving until the halfway point.  Have no fear, however, there is a purpose to this.  Without realizing it you will find yourself drawn into the lives and feelings of the characters, and the effort put into character development will pay off in a major way halfway through the book.  Prepare to get emotional.  As for the sex scenes?  Frankly, I think there are too many and find that it gets a bit tiresome after a while, but I have to give the author credit where it is due; they are well integrated into the novel and they generally feel organic with believable underlying psychology.  You won’t find a lonely woman answering the door for a pizza boy here.

You also won’t find yourself reading this novel for shimmering, beautiful prose that wraps itself around your mind and refuses to release you from its grip.  The prose is serviceable but it is nothing special.  It’s not why you’re reading this novel, anyway.  That honor goes to the characters that will refuse to leave your head, even when the novel draws to a satisfying close.

While I do have some reservations about this work, I still recommend it.  The philosophical questions it generates are interesting, the characters are very well done, and it’s an interesting ride that comes to a satisfying conclusion, something very hard to do.  It will not be the best novel you’ve read, but you won’t regret the time spent with it either.  It easily merits four stars.

You can find Steven Lyle Jordan's page for the book here.  He also has a blog that deals with some of the issues brought up in the book that is well worth a look.

 [DISCLOSURE: I was given a free copy of this book to review.]