The Ultra Thin Man: A Science Fiction Novel Hardcover – August 12, 2014
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From the Back Cover
"Patrick Swenson keeps the pages turning in this slick, clever noir novel. Wonderful world-building, a terrific read, and an auspicious debut: truly the stuff that dreams are made of." - Robert J. Sawyer, Hugo Award-winning author of Red Planet Blues
"Patrick Swenson charts a twisty journey through a futuristic landscape of aliens, detectives, murder, political intrigue, grand space opera, and unforgettable characters. It's great fun. Turn the first page and you'll forget where you are." - Jack Skillingstead, author of Life on the Preservation
"Hurtles us into an interplanetary mystery like a latter-day Dashiell Hammett channeling Philip K. Dick at his most inventively paranoid and savvy. Much of the action will raise the hair on your nape...as its cleverly twinned narrative rushes from scene to scene with thrilling pizzazz." -Michael Bishop, author of Ancient of Days and Brittle Innings
- Publisher : Tor Books; First edition (August 12, 2014)
- Language : English
- Hardcover : 336 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0765336944
- ISBN-13 : 978-0765336941
- Item Weight : 1.18 pounds
- Dimensions : 6.44 x 1.17 x 9.5 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #5,746,946 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
Top reviews from the United States
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I didn't get far into the plot, but apparently someone has just blown up a small moon and caused a million or so deaths on the planet below. The Network Intelligence Organization (a government agency called an Organization?) has put two old private investigators on the case. No doubt they will find out it wasn't the obvious suspect who did the dastardly deed, even though he's really big and mean. Imagine.
The cover blurbs are of the usual sort, but so far off the mark that I am going to remember who made them -- and discount anything they ever say on any other book I might be considering.
Lastly (this is presumably the publisher's doing): The figure on the cover appears to have borrowed his cloak from the cover of Iain M. Banks's 2008 book "Matter." That's where the similarity ends; Banks could write.
First off, a bit of discussion about the type of book this is. Having been away from the science fiction genre for a long while, I'm not really up-to-date with all the sub-genre descriptions. What you get with THE ULTRA THIN MAN is a not-too-distant future world where Earth is still recognizable as Earth, but where humans have colonized other worlds, as well. There are two sentient, basically humanoid species of aliens -- Helks and Memors. Helks are big and strong and sometimes antagonistic towards humans, although not universally so. There are not too many Memors in this book, and none who are main characters. However, we get the sense that human/Memor relations are pretty harmonious -- Memors are the ones who gave humans the technology to jump through space to distant locations. (The whole set-up is reminiscent of the television series Babylon 5 in a number of ways. I'm not complaining about that, though. Thinking about it that way gave me a good framework for understanding what was going on.)
There's a Union of planets -- with a President -- and a Movement dedicated to breaking up that Union, although we learn pretty quickly that things are not as they seem. While there's a definite political plot, we don't experience the points of view of any higher-ups. Instead, we follow along in alternating chapters with two human intelligence contractors, Dave Crowell (first person) and Alan Brindos (third person), as they investigate the Movement. While both Crowell and Brindos are sympathetic, perhaps because they're the POV characters and also somewhat because of the situation in which they find themselves later in the book, they don't have a ton of depth. We learn a little about their backgrounds but most of the thoughts we're privy to are focused on their respective missions. Supporting characters included Terl Plenko (a Helk associated with the Movement), Dorie Senall (a drug-addicted human woman), Jennifer Lisle (a human intelligence agent), Tem Forno (another Helk), and several others. Of these, I was pleasantly surprised with the depth of both Terl Plenko and Dorie Senall, which I thought was well-done, especially for non-POV characters. The cast was small enough to keep straight, despite the fact that the plot spanned at least four different planets.
I wouldn't call this a character-focused novel; rather, it has more of a noir/detective style mixed with a bit of a political/spy thriller that just happened to be set in a future where space travel was possible. It was very easy (and fun) to read. The language sat back and did its job -- that is, telling the story -- without interfering, and I never read anything that broke immersion. As a reader, I wasn't beaten over the head with new terminology, and after a bit of a hitch at the beginning (likely due to my lack of recent sci-fi reading experience), everything flowed quite smoothly. Maybe a third of the way in, the pace picked up quite a bit and I started making time to read this in hour-plus long stretches because I wanted to see how it ended.
The setting and world-building were believable. Earth still seemed like Earth. Other human-settled planets also seemed a lot like Earth, though perhaps with less development. That makes sense, though, since humans colonizing a planet would bring ideas, designs, and technologies from home with them. Some things were a bit old-fashioned (lots of use of paper money even in the 22nd century) and others didn't seem too far off from what we see now (personal cards that acted a lot like smart phones; magazines and newspapers that downloaded new daily versions, which is something an e-reader or tablet could do easily). These aspects were not really the stars of the story, either, but in the big picture, they worked.
Regarding the science, most of it wasn't explained, nor were attempts made to explain things. I honestly prefer it this way. I start to lose interest when writers try to go too into depth with scientific explanations, mostly because I start finding holes. Here, that wasn't a problem. "Alien technology" explained a lot of it, and since the protagonists were not, themselves, scientists, they looked at things on the level of depth as, say, a magazine intended for a popular audience would. The only (minor) quibble I have here is that a new metal called "metaline" is mentioned, and there's not a place in the periodic table for such an element. All of the new metals actual scientists are discovering these days are highly unstable and decay in a matter of nanoseconds (or less) in particle accelerators. But, it's one small thing in a book I enjoyed, overall, so I'll let that pass.
Another strength of this book was that the danger the characters faced was real. People they thought they knew (or knew of) were not always who or what they seemed. It was difficult to tell whom to trust. I was definitely not able to predict the ending (although some seeds were planted early so it didn't come out of nowhere), and I think that's a good thing (even though there was a little sadness involved). I love it when books don't take the expected course. For me, this was a plot-focused novel, but I think all the various aspects worked well together.
I've tried to be vague here to avoid giving away spoilers (one could argue that the book description on Amazon contains several spoilers), but all-in-all, I had a great time reading this book. It works as a standalone but the author left himself room for sequels or other stories/books set in the same world -- which I would definitely read. If you read a lot of science fiction, you'll undoubtedly find some familiar elements. If you don't read a lot of science fiction, you'll find this pretty easy to pick up. Overall, I found this pretty enjoyable and am glad I gave it a try.
Review copy provided by the publisher.