The woman is bald. She has no facial hair, no brows, or lashes. She wears a gray tunic, and gray leggings cover her lower limbs. Floating around her person are robot-drones, with long appendages making them look like mechanical jellyfish. One bot curls a tentacle around her neck as if needing to make constant contact. She watches everything, and when she speaks, the language is crisp, logical, and without emotion. You have just met ZETA4542910-95451E, the main character of Cathy McCrumb’s debut novel, Recorder, the first book of her Children of the Consortium Series.
Considering this description, a reader might believe the character is more machine than human. However, throughout the 367-page tale, the protagonist is both human and vulnerable. The personal log style chapters help the reader see the Vulcan-like emotion/logic struggle between the logic needed to complete her assignment and navigating catastrophic setbacks while facing blatant prejudice.
The dynamic plot centers around the assignment to investigate a mysterious disaster on a research facility within the subterranean confines of a small moon. First, The Consortium, the governmental organization controlling the activities of all citizens in this dystopian universe, receives a biohazard alert. After this, there is a questionable period of radio silence. The silence ends with a nuclear warning. Now, two years later, the Consortium sends in our protagonist.
The spaceship crew sees the mission as a routine rescue and clean-up operation. For ZETA4542910-95451E, the mission was to locate the missing Station’s Recorder. If the Recorder is dead, she is to retrieve the body and drone. She is also required to record the extraction of any citizen that remains alive. The person-to-person conflict of Recorder is the general prejudicial view of any Recorder by the crew. The crew has discomfort with and suspicion of all Recorders. The conflict between the Recorder and the crew comes through skillfully placed crew member flashbacks. Being informed that the emphasis of the Recorder’s training is in the observing and analyzing of Consortium staff activity heightens crew discomfort.
In the course of the rescue mission, the Recorder and crew must deal with physical obstacles, inexplicable deaths, and a mysterious murder. The protagonist strives to complete her mission, but faces crippling dysfunction and frustrating interference. But she is tenacious, and improvises. Every action and choice of this character without a name helps the reader identify with her singular humanity. The struggle and character arc are powerful.
“Every action and choice of this character without a name helps the reader identify with her singular humanity.”
McCrumb wields her scalpel-sharp prose with dexterity of a top-notched literary surgeon. The only drawback to this story is that the setup of chapter labels can lead to skimming. The record-style narrative seamlessly submerges the reader in the emotional persona of the main character and gives access to insights into the dynamics of crew personalities. Because the author’s universe is culturally and racially diverse, the novel is more likely to appeal to readers of various cultural backgrounds. The use of flashbacks is strategic, enhances the story flow, and does not slow the pacing. The weaving of events on the research station, with its aftermath, captures the essence of what it means to value others even when that requires self-sacrifice. Throughout the novel the author’s Christian world view is obvious. That being said, a deity is never mentioned, and there is not one instance of preaching. The compelling storytelling leaves the reader with a satisfying end but with enough open-ended questions to make the reader anticipate the next novel in the series.
Heat: Low. There is some interest between male and female characters. There is one scene where a character forces a kiss on another.
Profanity: Nil. When the Recorder hears someone about to use profanity, she quotes Consortium regulations against such actions.
Violence: Physical pain is inflected by Robo-drones when Recorders fail to comply with Consortium requirements. Physical pain is inflected on Consortium citizens when they interfere with Recorders function. There are creature attacks that result in the use of weapons and bombs. There is also the suggestion that rebels of the Consortium face execution.
Age Recommendation: 12 and up.
Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book with a request for an honest review.