Incursion by Aleksandr Voinov
Kyle is an ex-soldier of the future, when humanity has spread to many different worlds and developed into many distinct cultures, not to mention a few genetic variations based on environmental necessity or economics. He’s an ‘ex’ soldier because he’s been wounded by a weapon based on the technology of an alien species which has become a threat to humanity. Kyle no longer has the use of his legs, and must get around with the help of a prosthetic exoskeleton. It isn’t an ideal solution, but it was all the military would provide. His dream is to somehow get enough money to afford cybernetic limbs, which would allow him to move more naturally, and even almost pass for normal.
Not that there seems to be much prospect of any work coming his way when the story opens. But then comes a summons from the military commander of the sector where he lives. The commander has an offer for Kyle, a job. One of the very aliens who supplied the weapons technology as a double agent has gone missing with what is characterized as valuable information. If Kyle can track him down and bring him back, then he will be rewarded handsomely.
There’s just one catch: This alien species, the Glyrinny, are both shape-shifters and they have some kind of mind-reading capability, although it seems that what is known about them is more legend than fact. The only clue they can give Kyle is that the alien, Kshar, is probably on the Scorpion, a ship crewed by a small group of mercenaries, fighting and trading on the edge of the law. He doesn’t know if Kshar has assumed the face of someone on the crew, or if he’s a passenger, or simply hiding on board.
Kyle inveigles his way on board the Scorpion as a passenger and then sets about trying to figure who or where the alien is. It soon becomes apparent that the most likely candidate to be Kshar is the pilot Grimm, a man from Kyle’s home world who seems to be coming on strong to the crippled man. Can Kyle resist Grimm’s charms to capture the alien, if that’s what Grimm is?
There are some very good ideas bubbling away within Incursion. It manages to use the ‘was it real or was it a dream’ plot device without seeming cliché, and it goes further to bring up some interesting questions about what makes each of us who we are. Unfortunately, the work suffers the curse of the incomplete book. It reads like a first draft, a very good first draft, but still a work with a lot of holes and inconsistencies that needed a bit more polish.
It was the contradictions which really started to add up over the course of the book. Perhaps it’s a drawback of reading books for review (and I was sent a pre-release copy for review), but I find I’m constantly summarizing a book in my head after each reading session, and this seems to highlight the inconsistencies. Many of the contradictions revolve around Kyle’s assignment. The justification for using Kyle seems reasonable at first, and Kyle certainly is given the right motivation, but as the extent of his handicap becomes clear, and as the story continues to unfold, it seems really odd that the military commissar would consider Kyle the best choice, or even necessary to accomplish the task.
It would also seem the the commissar misled Kyle about what, exactly, Kshar has made away with. Given that she’s a minion of a human empire that seems a bit evil-ish by the end, it’s not surprising that she would lie to him, but she seems to have done it in a way that wasn’t in her own best interests.
The biggest contradiction of all comes near the end, when a small hand-held device is introduced that can sense Glyrinny with just a touch to the skin. As Kyle himself observes, this would have been nice to have. Well, yeah, and if they had such technology, and also knew which small ship Kshar was on, why did they need a ‘secret agent’ to go in and ferret him out? Only a few days at most pass between when Kyle gets the assignment and when the device is produced, so it’s not like it would be a new development. The sensor itself is not really critical to the story, it’s more of a shortcut that raises more questions.
The characters are interesting, but less well-drawn that they could be. Grimm is the quintessential rogue, likable but hard to get a good bead on, which is as it should be although the picture of him borders on caricature. Kyle, even though we get the story from his point of view, is a bit harder to understand. We can sympathize with him, but we’re not given enough to really empathize, which is what you need to get emotionally involved with a character.
This was a hard book to rate. The writing and fresh ideas mean it’s not a bad read, but at the end – for me – it’s much less than it could be.
You can find out more about Aleksandr Voinov at his web site.