Written by: Matt Forbeck
Genre: Science Fiction
Pages: 413 (Mass Market Paperback)
Why I Read It: Ever since I heard the concept, I wanted to read the book, like, yesterday. Probably because I've got my own story idea that is very similar, and I wanted to see what others have done with the same premise. But of course, this book has languished in the TBR ever since I picked it up at the Borders close-out sale, so I'm glad Mount TBR finally gave me a chance to pick it up and read it.
The premise: ganked from BN.com: THE VERY BEST PERSON TO CATCH YOUR KILLER…IS YOU.
Matt Forbeck arrives as the new king of high-concept - with a blockbuster action movie in a book. In the near future, scientists solve the problem of mortality by learning how to backup and restore a persons memories into a vat-bred clone. When Secret Service agent Ronan "Methusaleh" Dooley is brutally murdered, he's brought back from the dead one more time to hunt his killer, but this time those who wanted him dead are much closer to home.
FILE UNDER: Science Fiction [Future Thriller / Cheat Death / Rogue Agents / Who Killed Who?]
Spoilers, yay or nay?: Nay. I'll talk about plot points in vague terms, but if you're in a hurry, just skip to "My Rating" and you'll be good to go. Everyone else, onward!
First thing's first: yes, this premise is super-similar to Richard K. Morgan's Altered Carbon, which I haven't read but really want to. The execution, I believe, is different. If it hadn't been, I doubt the publisher would've bothered, and I say this only because the back of the book has quite a few extras, some of which talk about Forbeck's pitching of this novel and how he learned of Morgan's book himself (seriously, while this idea of being downloaded into other bodies to find your killer is SERIOUSLY AWESOME, it's also the first kind of story your mind latches on to when you think about downloading into other bodies). Because I didn't have Morgan's book under my belt (though I was aware of it), I was able to approach this with a relatively fresh take.
From the start, I had a bajillion questions, and these were questions that came quickly because as I've said earlier, I've entertained a similar premise for my own fiction. But some of the questions were unique to Amortals, such as the sense that every time Ronan woke (or any amortal woke), he was treated to video (or thrideo or whatever Forbeck called it) view of his own death. Which of course raised the question, how is it that very death is filmed? Learning he's in the Secret Service pretty well answers that, and later events in the book also reveal that not all deaths are filmed, and even if they are, you may not be able to trust their content. No, that's not a spoiler.
I really appreciated, in terms of answering my questions, the clever way Forbeck finds to indo-dump the necessary information the reader needs. When he's watching the video of his previous death, his killer is making some grand production, lecturing to the masses (the video was mass-released; YouTube for the future!) about the realities of amortality and how amortals are nothing but copies of copies of copies. This notion is what drives the book, what drives the world-building. At first, I had to balk at some of the things Forbeck posits about the future and amortality. While I believe that such a technology would certainly create a larger divide between the haves and have-nots, I'm not entirely convinced that the health system and research would just go away. Funding is one thing, but there will always be MORE mortals that amortals, and those people will want to live as long as they can.
The book did keep me engaged, especially with solving Ronan's murder. I'll go ahead and say it, too: I called it. Really, it's not that hard to figure out, but maybe I'm giving myself too much credit: after all, I'm no stranger to the thought-experiment of this concept. But with that mystery gone in my mind, the book oscillated between engaging and "give me a break." There are moments in this book that feel like they're choreographing a future movie adaptation, and my believability was strained. I really worried this book was going to get into wish-fulfillment male fantasy, and while one can certainly make an argument for it, it never crossed the line for me. It flirted with the line, no doubt, but never crossed it, thankfully.
I had other moments of disbelief, like how his job felt more like what I'd consider CIA (because Alias made me an expert on THAT, ha!) than actual Secret Service, but I suppose since this is futuristic, I can give the author a pass. Who knows how government bodies and agencies will change?
Short of Ronan's job, I had to shake my head when it seemed like the character's broken ribs were magically healed (I never got the impression that the health care was THAT advanced), because there's a point where that injury is completely forgotten and Ronan's running around doing stuff he shouldn't be able to do without some seriously painful feedback.
I also found the nature of Forbeck's "cliffhanger" chapters to be a little cheap. Not a fake-out cheap so much as teasing cheap, if that makes any sort of sense. Halfway through the big, I got tired those engineered endings tacked on solely to keep me reading. Granted, they worked, because I kept reading and got through the book quickly, but they were transparent and I resented them. I don't always resent such tactics, but for some reason, I did here.
There were also moments, especially closer to the end, where I felt like I utterly missed something, like a chunk had been cut out of the manuscript and someone forgot to put in a transition that would make certain actions and dialogue make sense (like right before the final showdown).
And while I did predict the killer, I had other predictions I ended up being wrong about, and for those, I'm glad. Querer's role, for example, I was completely off base about, and I think I like Forbeck's take rather than my own theory, and Forbeck's take certainly helps support the plot. The ideas too also created some interesting depth. The clash between the idea that amortals should be protected over mortals versus the other way around, because amortals are technically a renewable resource. An expensive one, but still renewable. Mortals don't get a second chance, and therefore their lives are more precious. I liked having that bit of meat on the bone. I also liked the backstory of finally learning of Ronan's original death and what happened in his first cloned "life." It wasn't his choice, and things weren't always so hunky-dory after that either. I'm glad to see that his life wasn't perfect, and that he didn't make perfect choices. Some of those choices drove me a bit bonkers, naturally, but there was some payoff in that regard too.
My Rating: It's a Gamble
Depending on how familiar you are with the general premise, this book may be the most original thing ever or the most generic thing ever. For my buck, I found the book to be appropriately entertaining with some surprising meat on its bones, ideas and concepts where explored that I wouldn't have expected from a book that's just begging to be adapted into an action movie. The action of the book sometimes was over-the-top, and the ending is a little abrupt in terms of loose strings (and by that I mean it really does end well, until you start asking what happens next, and then the brain is boggled), but as a whole, it's entertaining. Some things I predicted, other predictions I missed completely, which leaves me glad I read the book, though I suspect it's one I'll also completely forget about reading. That's not a slam on it either: there's lots of entertainment that people consume and enjoy and then completely forget about when the next shiny thing comes along. This is one of those for me. However, if the premise engages you, definitely give the book a shot. It's worth reading (and there's lots of fun extras in the back), even if you do end up forgetting about it later. :)
Cover Commentary: You know, it's striking in that it definitely catches my eye, but there's something about the cover I dislike. Is it the gradient of colors? The model used for the hero, which makes him look like a thug to me? I don't know… there's just a part of me that doesn't like it. FUN FACT: this may have been corrected in later editions, but on my back cover copy, the blurb misspells the hero's name. It's supposed to be Ronan Dooley, but someone typed Ronan Doonan instead, and others clearly missed that in the proofing process. Talk about an embarrassing typo!
Next up: The Dragon's Path by Daniel Abraham