Author: L.J. LaBarthe
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Cover Artist: Anne Cain
Rating: 4 of 5 Stars
Publication Date: 01/18/2016
Length: Novel (~ 50K-100K)
Genre: Action/Adventure, Fiction, Gay, Gay Fiction, Lesbian, New Adult, Science Fiction
It is the year 2275, and though some consider Earth a paradise, for most people on the planet or her outer-world colonies, it’s anything but.
Dex is a Boxie—a genetically engineered human created for the sole purpose of caring for wealthy bio-humans. His best and only friend is an AI cat named Manx, a secret Dex keeps from all around him. While he knows little about his sexuality, he’s attracted to Song.
Song designs ships that traverse deep space and has created the first fully sentient vessel called Fa’a. When he hears of a plot to capture Fa’a for nefarious purposes, Song flees Earth with a small band of misfits. Meanwhile, Dex’s fear of losing Manx drives him to take the cat and escape on a transport.
Song and Dex are brought together by chance. Just as their relationship blossoms from cautious and shy to romantic and erotic, new dangers threaten to destroy not only their love but also Fa’a, their friends, Manx, and all they care about.
So, this Boxie and his AI cat, Manx, plan to make a break for it from their restrictive Box Tower existence, and end up becoming members of a ragtag group of brilliant and extra-gifted individuals bent on saving, not just Earth but, the galaxy.
In other words, Dex, the human created in a lab and programmed to do a specific job and not make waves, didn’t want to give his “experiment in developing empathy for others”, aka Manx, just because those in charge told him he had to do that… so Manx could be deactivated and tossed in a recycling heap. Experiment: 1, Uncaring idiot out of touch overlord so-called humans: 0.
If you’re already getting the feeling that this story is rather evenly balanced between equal parts sci-fi and political commentary, you’re spot on, my friend.
On the sci-fi side, we have Dex, and Manx, and a sentient space ship called Fa’a who was imagined and built by Song, who is what they call a couple of hundred years into the future a “K-11” level mind-reader, essentially. Fa’a reads like an innocent younger sister and it totally works. She’s made up of organic living breathing tissue, as it were, integrated with metal and other elemental components. Further, she thinks and feels and grows just like any other sentient creature. So cool.
The commentary on the current political and and societal, well, let’s just call it what it all is: bull crap, is right there, never making itself difficult to interpret. The evil power-hungry kagillionaire who thinks he has, not just the strength but, the right to make the Earth and the entire galaxy fall in line with his idea of “law and order”, and will stop at nothing to make it happen, sacrificing anything and anyone to obtain it all. The parallels between those who are oppressed, used within the system for nefarious gains, and the people who often lose their safety and their lives, let alone their rights to them, are ripe for picking. Hell, everything is already on the ground, just waiting to be stumbled upon, and gasp at the obvious grossness of it all.
Let’s get down to specifics: Dex had me at “best friend, Manx”, his artificially intelligent cat, who is Dex’s sounding board and the reason he’s making a run for it to escape Earth and his literally boxed in life as an aerospace mechanic. He’s innocent about the world and how most things work, or don’t, but his natural personality is one of caution with a strong sense of self-preservation, sarcasm, and sweetness, which is a great combo to have once he meets up with Song and the gang.
Speaking of, Song is the son of a rich and powerful family, but is also misunderstood, falsely so by those who wish to misuse him and his abilities as a K-11. He’s a true rebel, a revolutionary, and refuses to play along. He’s making his own escape with Fa’a and a few precious friends, working to overthrow those who are attempting to take control of everything and force most of the galaxy’s inhabitants backwards into a stone-aged society in terms of freedom to be whomever you already are. The stakes are high since the choices are to do as their told, be imprisoned, or die.
While Melvile sounded perfectly sane, and sometimes Dex could see his point (which he always felt disgusted by later), those eyes had stayed with him – cold, calculating, scornful, with zero compassion and tolerance for anything or anyone that did not fit with his notion of the world.
So now you know who the bigtime baddie is.
And you can see how prescient this story is, considering it was published a year ago.
This story feels “new adult” to me by way of most of the main characters, how they interact with each other, and particularly in the way Dex and Song behave within their burgeoning friendship and more. The steam was meant to be there but it was tempered some by the glossing over of some details during those scenes. Which, by the way, aren’t numerous, and was a correct choice for this story because it’s undoubtedly first and foremost a sci-fi adventure, like Indiana Jones in space.
Unlike the glossing over of some details, others are overly abundant. Sometimes we’re given explanations or background, which is then repeated, albeit from a different character’s point of view, while not offering anything new in advancing the story. In particular are many of the scenes involving Melvile. He is often thinking about the current state of things, but we already know about them and we learn nothing new during his musings. We don’t learn a whole lot about why he’s so hellbent on being a galaxy-sized jerk, including to his own daughter, which lessens the impact of his fate later on in the story.
There are a few twists and turns, though, that work to break up those repetitious passages and add some strong footholds upon which make one’s way through this saga. They gave me that feeling of neeeeding to know what happens next. I could even see more stories coming from this universe and me being interested in reading them. The writing itself is solid and comes from an obviously practiced hand.
In summary, this is a space adventure saga with political stripes and loyalty-fueled friendships, and imaginative creations. At the center of it all is a man created in a test tube, programmed, who decides he’s not defined by the box in which someone else tries to make him live a rigid, monotonous life. And his AI cat who anyone would be fortunate to call a best friend. Yep, Dex literally escapes outside his box, knowing it’s not his at all.
I would like to thank the publisher for providing me with the eARC of this title in exchange for my honest opinion.
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