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The Tau Ceti Transmutation (Rich Weed) (Volume 1) Paperback – February 1, 2015
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1. The setting doesn't feel as well-developed as the "Daggers and Steele" series.
Berg has clearly done some solid work getting together concepts he wanted to include (the secretary/girl Friday as a virtual intelligence living in the main character's head, his partner being an android, etc.), but they get muddled, or left unexplored. For instance: The book revisits the fact that the main character is technically an old man in a young body due to age-retarding treatments, but it fails to make it particularly important. In fact, the fact seems to exist mainly to explain how Rich has a variety of skills (IE he had time to pick up several careers and still be a young man), but his relative immaturity of personality has to be explained away by other mechanisms. It creates a "Turtles all the way down" mentality that lacks sure footing.
Similarly, Carl the Android's pseudo-feelings are an issue. Carl is an artificial intelligence and artificially sentient, but he's also aware of (and laments to some extent) the extent to which he is permitted free will. It could be an interesting story element, but it gets touched upon briefly and then abandoned. It touches on some of the "am I a real person" elements of the film "Blade Runner" and its ilk, but in this case feels like a lost opportunity.
Likewise, while it's implied that everyone's "Brain" (a cybernetic implant/on board computer that everyone has) has a personality, and that almost everyone has one, and that they have their own personalities defined by the owner, and that those Brains handle a lot of mundane functions for their owners, the only one we ever see is Paige. Even if we would never be able to see another of these characters, their effect on the story should be felt, especially given the extent to which the main character Rich is reliant on his. Again, it feels like a lost opportunity. Berg is clearly creative and highly intelligent, but showing us this sort of thing and not exploring is disappointing.
2. Main character issues/Humor falling flat.
The main character is named Rich Weed. "Dick Weed" in case the joke was too thin, and then his ancestor was "Dill Weed" and in both cases the character alleges to not get the joke. It's not a particularly funny joke, but it's about the extent of it. There are what the main character seems to perceive as dirty Luddite space hippies, who are pretty stereotypical hippies (but in space, in a commune), and the hero blunders through his interactions with them due to his preconceptions. Similarly, he blunders through his interactions with the alien characters he encounters, who seem to be reasonably well thought out conceptually, but viewed through the eyes of the main character are seen as jokes at best and obnoxious stereotypes at worst. These do not portray the character well.
Likewise, the character starts the series opening his business largely because he's bored and in need of something to do. Due to an inheritance, he's wealthy beyond his needs, but that's tricky in light of the classic PI motivations, because even his boredom seems mild rather than an actual driving influence. Generally PI's in the PI story genre need the money from the job for...something. Whether it's Marlowe, Spade, Dresden, Rockford, or Magnum, they need the money, or at least the work. Even Sherlock Holmes needed the work, if not the retainer, because of a compulsive need to solve puzzles.
Given Rich Weed's mediocre motivating force and his mediocre drive and his almost passively successful life, it's hard to like Rich, even as puzzles play out around him.
THAT HAVING BEEN SAID...
It is in fact a first series, and in the modern day you sometimes need a book or two to get your feet under you and to grips with your character. For the price, Berg's creation isn't terrible, but rather a mediocre start, and while mediocre the start is still good enough to warrant a read of the second book.
Transfer the urban fantasy setting to a sci Fi setting and little actually changed. It is still a detective type story. Instead of an elve partner you have a "brain app activated snarky female smart interface" and an envious android as partner.
You still get the snide double entendre (though a little more tedious this time) and a protagonist who certainly is not the brightest bulb around.
And you get an investigation into a specious event inspired by the libido of our protagonist. Except the ridiculous investigation masks a much more serious situation constituting a real threat by alien entities.
Despite the inane, this is actually a quite entertaining story, hence the four stars.
Overall, The Tau Ceti Transformation is great way to while away a rainy afternoon (or a sunny one at the beach), I look forward to the next entry in the series.
And the ending was very sweet. So, yes. Recommended.