Disclaimer: I received this book as a beta copy and in exchange for a fair, critical, and slightly abusive (think jalapeno-sandpaper) review
The following book will also be free on Amazon from July 21st-24th, so go give the author some love and pick up a copy
What could possibly be more befitting my rogueish style of Irish goodbyes and unexpected reappearances (that make Gandalf look like a member of the frequent buyer club) in my own blogposts to come before you this day and deliver you something totally out of left field? BAM! I need to rent a confetti cannon and dancing girls for these kinds of visitations.
Oh yes; today we are talking a pulp-fantasy, laser-spitting science fiction indie novel that was self-published.
Now if you know me I normally am very hesitant to endorse science fiction or indie novels out of experience. One part preference, the other being too accustomed to the smell of the dumpster-alley (aka the dregs of self-published novels. My nostrils haven’t quite recovered from the last time an author threatened to loose a deluge of unhinged followers (all his family, lol) on me if I didn’t review his transcient tome on “Sexy Magicians Bereft of Personality Who Divulge Plot Exposition By Talking to Their Familiars” you might think I’m kidding but let me tell ya; the world of self-publishing is a weird, lawless land. It’s the Wild West for Autism and half-assed pipe dreams. And sci-fi has always been…well sci-fi to me. It’s not that I don’t enjoy laser-swords or space marines; it’s that’s all sci-fi has been for me, short of Dune and Enders Game (bookmark this, I will return to this comparison later)!
Straight up shooting from the hip here, I would have never discovered this book had it not been through mutual acquaintances and maybe the mystique of the summary.
But let me tell ya folks; I was delighted to read this one.
Stirring the pot before I even get to the recipe, let me get some objective criticisms out of the way to prepare yonder butts for what to expect. I did have a few contentions (mainly preferences) with the novel, so I’ll just rapid-fire them;
Not dissimilar from Gardens of the Moon, the story drops you into this plot without even the fibrous hair off a frog’s nipple on what this world is and how it works. There was a lot of charm to the ‘show and only tell in weird descriptions’ but to the uninitiated, the magic/technology really just doesn’t explain anything to you and you’re just going to have to accept that. Next up we have the etymology and plain made-up words; some of them were real neat, some were just damned nutty; parapadon, necropolithic, omnlith, vamprydact, and horizantic to name a few. Somebody has a fetish for Gene Wolfe! While imaginative and unique, I can see how some people might scratch their heads like I did; again, not a hard-hitting sledge of a critique but it warranted attention. Lastly we have lore/worldbuilding. I’m becoming somewhat of a connoisseur of the Lore Lite these days and so I enjoyed how the exposition and descriptions really filled the shoes of a Glenn Cook more than a Tolkien; a tasty appetizer that makes you either invent a main course in your head or paints just a few vibrant details to stand out (days being called cycles, moonseasons reflecting an erratic period of time, swords being called cycladii). Albeit this action-oriented and swift prose leave large gaps in the ‘whothefuck’ category because a random civilization is name-dropped and you feel like you missed something when it might just turn out to be flavor text.
Interjecting before I jump into the juicy core of this sucker, these nitpicks of mine may turn out to be false alarms or smoke in the wildfire; Gemini leaves many questions and the reader hanging on for more, which very well could be answered in the following book (which we look forward to) which have been confirmed, as this is the first book of a series.
Or the author might just be one of those sanctimonious sadists who wants you to take notes while you read to inflict maximum literary punishment (looking at you, Steve Eriksen)
Onward now to why I broke my typical rule on sci-fi; this is not a typical sci-fi book. I struggle to even define this book as ‘science-fiction’ because it really defies to stay within the boundaries of one. Part of the book feels like it was ripped straight out of the Odyssey, another a lost escapade of the Cimmerian’s long lost brother lost in an alien metropolis, and then scenes of barren wastelands that really evoke Frank Herbert.
Right off the cuff and into the meat here, Gemini doesn’t feel like science fiction where the typical verbiage sounds like; >”Ah yes, Omega Dock Veta-11 Bravo Wiener Actual. My AI Elizabeth “Big Booty” is preparing to send me to [insert planet] off to go fight the evil space lizards on the ship BSS HellFlameSkullBadass to save humanity. Wish me luck as I devour my meal-tube in the void!” Gemini is so unlike this in the sense where it might be describing a 20′ tall guardian laser-cannon mech-bug but you wouldn’t have any clue, because not only are you being given an ambigious (unreliable narrator) descriptions from the perspective of the character, it doesn’t have the cultural connotations that these tropes are derived from. It’s ancient technology from civilizations, nobody has a user manual, or even knows the language from that time period and you feel that in your bones. I can’t tell you how many fiction books where a group of vagabonds are wandering through ruins and the immersion is shattered when Peasant With Magic Sword starts yacking ancient lore that not even the court sorcerer is privvy to because “his grandma told him stories about Kirkland-brand Skeletor”. There’s absolutely none of that.
One of the maddening but refreshing aspects of the plot is not even the resident and sort-of antagonist god is aware of the meta-history of the world or anthropology; nobody knows what really happened. History is this fuzzy gray area and compound that with the migrations of peoples and this Conan/Halo vibe and you get this world that feels like a decrepit, rusted thing. It doesn’t matter if there is magic or sword-swinging because the truths and answers all are either in the stars or beneath your boots. Throughout the protagonist(s) journey(s) you’re not just seeing through their eyes but you’re trying to piece together clues and plots that doesn’t feel at all predictable; especially the ending (no spoilers but it’s definitely a curve-ball).
Back to the medium-rare here, Gemini does something radical that I think most traditionally published books fail to accomplish (let alone self-published) is incorporating two different protagonists who are simultaneously antagonists, depending on the section or your point of view. There is no clear “good guy” or “bad guy”; both of these characters have justifiable motivations to achieve their goals. To this, even the vampiric snake-god with wacky cybernetic zealots and a hard-on for vendettas has a pretty good point towards the end on how the Godwalkers (ghost/AI people) really royally screwed up the world and why his narcisstic impulses have bled into survival.
Creating a compelling narrative that comes off mythological while still subverting some pervasive tropes in the genre of science-fiction/fantasy is a rare Herculean feat these days, let alone making an action-packed story that incorporates some heavy meta questions that pokes philosophically at the elements of consciousness and cultural conflict. Even ecological. I think the only sci-fi/fantasy book I’ve even come across that tries to navigate these tricky waters is Dune; comparisons be damned.
Without giving much away or any spoilers, there’s a very human and very relatable side character who takes up the mantle as a protagonist as the novel progresses; this dynamic really adds a military spice to the book that fires off like a veteran’s war journal in a bronze age dystopia, leading a ‘small band of commandos against the world’ that comes off so archetypal it may as well be Greek mythology. I thoroughly empathized with this third protagonists and while there’s speculation whether this will continue, I want to see more of this.
In summary I am giving this weird fun book an 8/10 for the following but not limited to; telepathic apes, midget cannibals called Bees, primordial cyborgs, wolves called vhargs, a forest from space, seven moons, a talking head, more cannibals, emo Conan, vampire cyborgs, sadistic wizard-ghosts with red laser magic, giant purple heads, and one really big red sun named Bask that may/may not be sentient.
Gemini of the Sleeping Gods is also going to be free for the next few days as a promotion to get the book into as many hands as possible. I’m not contractually obligated to mention this; I really think people would dig this masterpiece. I’ll drop the link for it below.
Sayonara my little monsters, but not for too long. I will be back soon to deliver a hoard of reviews. I have a whole pile of books to deliver to you.
Kindle Book Link: https://amzn.to/2TsjnaR