“Breakaway – Cassandra Kresnov #2” by Joel Shepherd – thoughtful Sci Fi packed with fast action

breakawayThis is one of those books that it’s easy to misrepresent. I’ve seen it described as a SF techno/polictical thriller about an ass-kicking, sexy, killer android. And it is. Except… it really isn’t.

What keeps me reading these books is that it is not about how exciting it is to see a fembot in action. Cassandra Kresnov, who calls herself Sandy. is not human but she is a person, with emotions as well as an intellect, opinions and preferences as well as an accurate grasp of the data and in search of friendship and freedom and meaning rather than just personal survival.

The themes of the book are trust, loyalty, belonging, being loved,  and what it means to be a person. The themes are explored against the background of a power struggle between competing ideologies carried out at the political and paramilitary level. No simple lines are drawn here. Sandy has to deal with the reality that politics are complex and many of the players are neither wholly good not wholly bad, that she is hated by many, marked for death by some and loved by a few people close to her. By the end of the novel she seems to have decided that what matters is who she loves and who she is loved by – not a classic fembot orientation.

Another deviation from the fembot stereotype comes when Sandy is asked to rescue a boy who is being held hostage by terrorists. Her reaction is one of regret. She is completely certain that, despite how impossible the task would be for a human, she can kill all three terrorist and save the child. She doesn’t want to do this because, in her mind, the certainty of the deaths turns these kills into murder. Yet she kills the men and saves the boy because she can’t see an alternative. In her mind, this means that she did something that was wrong because she decided that it was necessary. No excuses, just an evaluation of her own actions.

Joel Shepherd has given the book a good rhythm. It starts with action scenes: fast, graphic, lot’s of explosions and gunfire and mayhem in public places; then moves on to personal reflection, usually by Sandy, on what the action meant; then he dives into complex and fascinating political intrigue, then dwells on the beauty of the city and the civilization it represents, before repeating the sequence from the top. He manages the rythm with skill and produces a much better book as a consequence of it.

“Breakaway” carries straight on from the first book, “Crossover” starting with one of what is to be many intense action scenes, chasing down bad guys bent on murder and mayhem. The person doing the chasing isn’t Sandy but a new character, Ari Ruben, a hacker turned security guy who will give Sandy a lot to think about. Sandy will also be challenged by the political changes in The League, the alliance who created her and who she defected from in the first book. The political stress between Earth and its colonies continue to grow. Joel Shepherd has created fertile ground for a long series here.

Dina Pearlman, the narrator, continues to mangle the text with the use of random inflections that frequently slowed down my ability to process its meaning.  She remains very good at dialogue and accents but I really wish they’d picked a different narrator for these books.

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