Overload Flux – Carol Van Natta
Posted by maddalena@spaceandsorcery
The universe painted in this future story is an intriguing one: mankind has left its home and expanded across the galaxy, colonizing a good number of planets and establishing an equally good level of technology and living conditions: this is the first detail that meets the eye, an advanced civilization that still manages to feel close to our standards, still human-sized, even though some of these future humans sport fascinating evolutionary traits, such as telepathy. As it often happens with humanity, going into space means that we’ve brought with us our old vices and sins: in such a sprawling expanse of worlds, police work can be difficult or outright impossible, especially where influential corporations and their interests can tip the balance one way or the other and where gifted humans can further muddle the waters. What’s more, there are shadow agencies pursuing their own goals with any means at their disposal, including the literal crafting of a breed of enhanced soldiers/assassins.
Mairwen Morganthur, one of the main characters in Overload Flux, is one such creature: the shady Citizen Protection Service heavily modified and trained her to be a tracker, an agent to be sent on secret missions where stealth and killing abilities are required. Mairwen has escaped from the CPS’s clutches and is trying to carry on being as non-descript and low-profile an individual as possible, working as a night shift guard in the La Plata private security organization and keeping her head down to avoid being recognized for what she is. Mairwen is an interesting character: on one side she is exceptionally gifted, having been shaped by CPS into an efficient tracking machine whose perceptions and abilities go far beyond those of a normal human, on the other she’s a heavily damaged person. Her training and past history have put a stress on physical reactions and efficiency, while at the same time negating whatever humanity she possessed: Mairwen is something of a child whose emotional growth has been stunted at best, and the present need to avoid recognition is certainly not helping her in that direction because if she needs to forsake any personal interaction for obvious reasons, she is also closing herself off to any meaningful human contact.
The other factor in the equation is represented by Luka Foxe, a crime scene investigator gifted (or rather cursed…) by the ability to see, and therefore reconstruct, the events concerning violent crimes simply by looking at their aftermath. This talent has exacted its toll on Luka, making him a loner, plagued by nightmares of the horrors he’s remotely witnessed and forcing him to distance himself from others. When he’s called into a homicide investigation that will soon transform into the discovery of deeper and more layered plots involving big pharmaceutical companies, Mairwen is assigned to him as security back-up and the meeting of these two deeply injured people gives birth to the backbone of the story.
Recognizing their mutual problems on a quasi-subliminal level, Mairwen and Luka are attracted to each other in an almost compulsory way, and the trust and professional respect they are able to build between them soon turns into reciprocal attraction. As fascinating as this is, it also represents – in my opinion – the book’s weak point, because events concerning Mairwen and Luka are too quick, the bridges they build between them are created too swiftly, and the ensuing romance feels somewhat contrived, not as organically paced as I would have preferred. Given the level of psychological damage suffered by these two characters, I expected a longer process between the phases of respect, trust and finally love: Mairwen has negated the existence of her emotions for too long (almost her whole life!) to fall prey to a similar level of attraction, and a more prolonged resistance from her part, to the wave of feelings assaulting her, would have been more believable. The same goes for Luka who, although far less emotionally stunted than Mairwen, still carries a heavy baggage on his mind and soul. Both of them react to attraction in an almost teenager-ish way that belies the maturity of their years and experiences, and this factor spoiled, in a way, the enjoyment I would have had in seeing the romance blossom at a more leisurely pace.
Despite these purely personal misgivings, the book is a quick, pleasant, well-written read, complete with engaging secondary characters, adventurous planetfalls, space battles, betrayals and double dealings and a few hints of more to come, in what promises to be a galaxy-spanning series that balances story-telling and technical details in a satisfying way, without ever indulging in too many explanations or distracting info-dumps. A book that might be also appreciated by readers who are not normally sci-fi oriented.
My Rating: 7/10