“Shadow of a Dead Star was something different and refreshing. It pulled out emotions long forgotten in reading piles of similar books, and reminded me of why it's important to take a chance on something new every now and then.” – Jessica, Goodreads reviewer
Shadow of a Dead Star is the first instalment of cyberpunk trilogy, The Wonderland Cycle, its high-tech setting shot through with much older, classic detective noir DNA to form something fiercely unique that has been exciting and surprising reviewers left, right and centre.
“Set in Seattle in 2078, Shadow of a Dead Star follows Industrial Security Bureau agent Thomas Walken. Walken is the grizzled, cynical hero who fights to keep black-market technology from making its way into the mainstream. When he intercepts a smuggled shipment of little girls hardwired as sex toys, he finds himself tumbling down the rabbit hole into a nightmarish world of synthetic humans, hard-talking hackers and the kind of technology you thought only existed in Blade Runner.” – Icy Sedgwick, independent reviewer
“Shean's writing rips you out of your comfortable chair and hurls you directly into the story. It is one thing for a writer to write a story about a dark and brooding place, it is something entirely different when the reader can actually feel the coldness and the despair emanate from the page.” – Karen DeLabar, independent reviewer
“Well-written, nicely paced, and offers some surprising turns in a genre often referred to as tech or future noir. A list of fitting reference points you'll see mentioned will include Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, Neal Stephenson, Cyberpunk, William Gibson, CSI, maybe even some work by Warren Ellis.” – Chris Hallock, ChiZine
Fans of cyberpunk, classic noir and crime thrillers alike will love Shadow of a Dead Star and its sequel, Redeye (due end of 2012).
Also available from Curiosity Quills Press:
** Set in the same Wonderland Cycle universe as Shadow of a Dead Star, Michael Shean’s Bone Wires follows CivPro detective, Daniel Gray, in the hunt for the elusive Spine Thief.
** For lovers of detective noir with a horror twist, search out Michael Panush’s Stein & Candle Detective Agency series
** And for those who like their dystopias laced with moral ambiguity and religious zealotry, Nathan L Yocum’s The Zona will satisfy your appetite.
In Michael Shean's futuristic noir, Shadow of a Dead Star, we follow the gut instincts of Thomas Walken, an agent with the Industrial Security Bureau in Seattle, 2078. In a world where technology and commercialism is god, it is up to Walken to keep black-market technology off the Seattle streets. He has no idea that when he's sent to intercept a shipment of smuggled Princess Dolls, which are little girls turned into sex toys, that his entire world, and the world as he knows it will be lost to him forever. When the dolls are stolen out of custody, Walken is put on the spot to find out the who and why behind it and this time it's not just his job on the line, but his life.
Shean's writing rips you out of your comfortable chair and hurls you directly into the story. It is one thing for a writer to write a story about a dark and brooding place, it is something entirely different when the reader can actually feel the coldness and the despair emanate from the page. Shadow of a Dead Star captures the spirit, or actually, lack-of spirit that the noir genre is so popular for. Walken hates the world as it has become; a world where most people have more hardware in them then actual organs. He has no implants, or upgrades to help him to do his job, yet he relies on his gut instincts, instincts that have proven to be very useful in the past. He's a loner, again a must for the noir genre, someone who does his job because it's his job and moves on.
One of the questions Shean tackles within this novel that I absolutely loved is that of humanity and what makes us human. In Walken's future people can hook themselves up to computers for a plethora of reasons from receiving and sending data to performing sexual acts amongst others. When people talk about the Princess Dolls its done with a sense of disconnect and apathy. These dolls were once human girls who were abducted and turned into robots and because of that last part, that is how society sees them, as robots. Everyone, that is, except for Walken. When he finds the smuggled shipment of dolls he sees three little girls and his stomach turns.
To further the debate, Shean introduces Bobbi January to the story. She fully takes advantage of technology and the advancements in place to help alter your body and mind. She also views the dolls as just that, a doll engineered for whatever the buyer wants; to her they are no longer human. But the question then becomes, what makes someone human? Bobbi can hook herself to any mainframe and collect and scatter data, she, in a sense, becomes a computer.
However, even though she is as enhanced as one can get without actually turning into a robot, Bobbi, oddly enough, is Walken's voice of reason. She becomes his truth in a world made up of illusions. Walken has become so jaded by life and all that he has seen that this new way of life can only mean bad things. Bobbi tries to open him up, to make him see the world for what it is; she challenges him to stop feeling sorry for himself and to realize that the path he was on was not going to give him the answers he was looking for.
Shean's twisted tale blends technology, depravity and greed with the popular elements of science fiction and noir together into a seamless plot with few slow spots and plenty of action. His writing is fluid and the story had just enough complexity to keep you reading to find out the answers but not too much that you'd be left scratching your head.Read more ›
This book presents itself at the beginning and for the most part as the story of a lone wolf detective against a conspiracy of the decadent and corrupt super rich. Unfortunately I am unable to refer to it as a detective story due to a number of key failings. Many of these failings appear to be from a basic lack of planning, experience and no editorial influence or commitment to quality storytelling. I am genuinely baffled how this book as received so many positive reviews.
The first and most obvious throughout the story is that the protagonist is never really challenged to do any detective work of note. Everything from critical clues, vital information, his lust interest (more on that later), the deaths of his enemies and even entry to a top secret facility is all handed to him courtesy of him being the main character. What little deduction Tom Walken* makes is unengaging because the reader does not have enough information to understand the significance of it and the mystery concludes with a speech that attempts to justify the various plot holes with "it had to happen that way". There is very little structure to the story and even less mystery that we are able to appreciate and I can't even really summarise what the "big mystery" he's trying to solve is beyond "the thing that happened!".
Most annoying of all the plot stumbles along stubbing it's toes on and then largely forgetting drama points and even what the task at hand is with no direct narrative and a closing dialogue that goes to great pains to try to cover much of this by literally telling us that things were constantly outside the protagonist's )(and by extension the reader's) understanding or perception. With no real grasp of what's going on, no likeable characters to attach to (but a plethora of bad stereotypes) and meaningful decisions by the main cast it's very hard to get engaged with the book or even focus on much of it. The ending, though finishing on a line I could only imagine being narrated as though in an Ed Wood movie, is unsatisfying but no more so than the rest of the book.
It also falls short as a character study/drama as Tom is a rather dull and frankly unlikeable individual. Though there are apparently warrants and the evidence they would need to get said warrants, he never seems to follow any sort of process and instead prefers to try to browbeat his way through everything and leave others to deal with the fallout and paperwork. More of the book is spent telling us about his dreams than Tom demonstrating any heroic or impressive traits beyond killing cyborg women and homeless junkies who behave like zombie hordes. Mostly we only have other characters singing his praises and occasional statements about how he is "different" from the future in ways that honestly seem quite dull and included only for the reader's benefit. Almost no effort is made into putting characters into tough situations where we will understand their conflict and their decisions, in fact the writer seems to revel in the fact that the cast is mostly impossible to understand.
The underwhelming "romance" appears to be shoe-horned in with the love interest being into him simply because they're spending time together, then getting understandably sick of him quickly after the near-death-adrenaline-fueled sex wears down - making the author perhaps even more cynical of relationships than even myself. Even as whirlwind romances go it's rather tepid and feels more like a bang buddy arrangement born of convenience rather than any real emotional connection. I honestly cannot say I can think of a single moment where either party did something truly significant only for the benefit of the other. Interestingly, despite both the main character and their bang buddy having notable careers in detective work/espionage, neither seems to be very careful nor savvy in dealing with situations.
As far as dystopian futures go, this one seems to be a mash up of the worlds from Ghost in the Shell 2 and Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep with generic statements to try to project it into the future (on politics and the now scarcity of domesticated bovines) but none of the depth or complexity. Often these statements and the details seem to be included just to remind us that it's the future rather than to provoke thought or consideration. More annoying the author has a tendency to describe items by brand name only - which not only confuses me how Porsche has outlasted every other change in the world but also makes me wonder what their sunglasses will look like then (they already made a huge variety of designs now without trying to imagine what future sunglasses are like).
Throughout the book the writing is often unclear and tends to go off on unrelated tangents and paints pictures of the world where I know I am supposed to be shocked but just can't bring myself to be due to the lack of punch in the writing and that the payoffs never match the build ups or simply baffle me. The organised crime groups are constantly painted as being efficient as a well oiled machine with unlimited resources which is apparently run by the mob equivalent of Keystone Cops who favour dangerous confrontation over simple, safe solutions. In at least one case they murder a practically priceless asset who they have complete control over, in a messy and public manner that could not fail to draw attention themselves, for apparently no reason other than they could (and that it conveniently avenges Tom while leaving him with squeaky clean hands... if you don't count hobo murders).
At several points in the book the details presented directly contradict themselves. After a twist in the case, Tom declines from going straight home because he still needs to think and work is not done at home - immediately after sleeping in his car (which he is apparently prone to doing regularly) he goes home and works from his home terminal after taking a nap and talking to his ethnic stereotype neighbour. From that point on he appears to have no issues with working from home. Another character is shown, at painful length, to live in a heavily protected and monitored apartment building then murdered brazenly in her own home by three goons in combat armour. There is a discussion about one character potentially getting potentially regendered at a genetic level, but later we facial reconstruction to avoid recognition is limited to only existing surgeries (just done faster and better). The books' reliance on us just accepting these contradictions makes it hard to know what aspects of the story we're supposed to focus on and what aspects we're supposed to ignore.
Overall I felt it was very unsatisfying and that it failed to live up to expectations set by it's blurb and the many positive reviews.
* As a side note I did find that the book became more engaging if I imagined it being narrated by Christopher Walken and highly recommend you try with with the "look inside" preview.Read more ›
I thought this was going to be just a run of the mill detective story in a sci-fi setting. It totally wasn't. This story blew me away. I could not put it down. Another reviewer mentioned that this was not the usual "crud on the shelves right now" and he was right. The story and concepts are completely outside of what you find from most sci-fi authors these days. The character of Walken is a well written example of a humanist trapped between three realities; the one he knows, the one he wishes it could be, and the one it really is. It's that last reality that sets this book apart from others in the genre. This book grabbed me in chapter 1 and never let go until Michael Shean had taken me so far down the rabbit hole I saw where the worms eat. I highly recommend this book.
Book Info: Genre: Science Fiction/Detective/Future Noir Reading Level: Adult
Disclosure: I received a free eGalley from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
Synopsis: Seattle, 2078. The future hasn't been kind to the spirit of humanity; commercial obsession and technological fetishism rules the day, religion and belief has died screaming in the fires of war, and what remains is moral decrepitude. Life in the future is hard on the soul.
As an agent of the Industrial Security Bureau, Thomas Walken knows that better than anyone. His job is to keep the worst kind of black-market technology out of the hands of citizens, technology born out of the shadowy nation nicknamed Wonderland. But the kind of fantasies that come out of that place aren't for the good people of the world. Wonderland technology is like black magic made real.
Walken's newest assignment starts out simply: intercept a smuggled shipment of Princess Dolls, little girls turned into sex toys, and bring them into custody. But when the girls are hijacked from federal custody and Walken gives chase, he finds a trail of bodies in their wake. Before he's through, Walken will find himself confronted revelations that will answer every question that the troubled lawman has ever had about himself and the world he lives in - but his mind and soul may not survive it.
My Thoughts: This is a very dark book - the world in 2078 is not a nice place at all. Seattle has completely changed - what used to be a quirky and artistic place has been replaced with corporate sterility, only the Verge standing between the New City and the Old City retains any of the original charm.
The book was well-written with good characterization and a smooth plot flow, but for some reason I just couldn't get into it; my mind kept wandering away and I'd have to re-read a section and force myself to keep going. It makes no sense to me, because this is the sort of book I tend to like - science fiction mixed with thriller and police procedural. I almost didn't finish it, but I pushed through and managed to do so. The last 8 percent of the story is pretty important to understanding the whole thing, so I was glad I did so. However, I just didn't like the story all that much - nothing wrong with it, it just didn't hold my attention. Maybe it was just too dark - because it was very, very dark. If you like dark fiction, you should check it out.Read more ›