Book 1 of Structure
Author’s official Web site: http://www.martinsketchley.co.uk/
Four hundred years into the future, one man rules all of Humanity, General William Myson, the most powerful man in the galaxy. Myson heads Structure, the governmental body ruling Earth. Myson has amassed his power through arms and technology brokering, enforcing an almost Big Brother type of mentality. However, Myson wants to extend his reach of power, and to do this he wants to marry a Princess of one of the alien races with which he trades, the Seriatt. He has secured a bride in the consoq Vorniass Lycern, the female of the three genders of the Seriatt race. The only problem is that Lycern has disappeared, seeking sanctuary in a religious cult, the Affinity, which gives us the title of this book. This is what gets the narrative flowing in The Affinity Trap, the first novel in Martin Sketchley’s Structure series.
At the eye of this storm is our protagonist, Alexander Delgado, who is sent on a mission by Myson to bring Lycern back to Earth. Once a highly respected veteran Officer, Delgado served for many years under the government prior to Myson’s rise to power. Under Myson, Delgado is becoming less relevant, and is growing increasingly frustrated with both Structure and his decreasingly prominent role in it. Myson didn’t just succeed the previous government, he overthrew it in a bloody coup, therefore, Delgado has ample reason for his bitterness.
We’ve got a fairly standard, almost pulpy premise here, a frustrated veteran on one last mission for his powerful over-the-top dictator boss. You can almost hear the voice-over for the movie trailer, “One man…” That said, I think Sketchley does a good job of lulling the reader in with this familiar premise, but along the way he adds splashes of originality. A three-sexed race has been done before, most notably in Octavia Butler’s wonderful Xenogenesis saga. Sketchley’s aliens are also both more off-putting and alluring than Butler’s, which allows Sketchley to be more graphic in his depictions of the sexual couplings between the Seriatt and Humans. Sketchley describes Lycern as rather unattractive, but regardless of this, Delgado cannot resist her and is sexually drawn to her. This conflict, Delgado going against his better desires and judgments, is something that flavors the rest of the novel.
Make no mistake, Sketchley does not pull any punches with his narrative or his characters, particularly with the sexual scenes between Delgado and Lycern. Delgado is a very strong-willed man, considering himself a master of his own desires and actions. Upon meeting with Lycern, Delgado must re-examine himself in light of their relationship and the lasting effects of their coupling. While initially, I thought the interactions between Lycern and Delgado were unnecessarily graphic, Sketchley did a great job of assuaging this initial recalcitrance. Everything that happens, all that Delgado does and experiences, serves the story as a whole.
Along the way, he returns to Earth and meets with a small band of rogues on Earth who feel similar frustrations about the government, as does Delgado. These are fairly interesting characters too, and Sketchley handles their initial interactions between Delgado and the group quite well. They doubt his intentions, while he doubts their fortitude. Delgado’s interaction with the female of the group, simply called Girl, was played out very consistently as his earlier scenes with Lycern continued to flavor his thoughts and feelings.
The novel isn’t without its faults, however. There were times when the narrative did not churn along as briskly as it could have. Also, naming one of the two primary female characters simply “Girl” was somewhat uninspired and, I thought a bit silly. I suppose Sketchley was making a statement of sorts with this; however, I felt it just muddled things and detracted slightly from some of the more interesting scenes in the book.
On the whole, this was a fun blending of future SF, space opera, and societal SF. I think one of the more appealing things about this book, for me, is that just when I think Sketchley strays a bit from the plot or seems to become self-indulgent, he steers things back on course, when in fact, they were always on course. Like I said, everything in his narrative serves the story. This was an entertaining, over-the-top story, from the beginning of the story to the powerful ending. Throughout, Sketchley drags Delgado through an emotional roller coaster of a ride and I can say I was happy to have had a seat on the ride.
One other thing I should add. This is third offering I’ve read from Pyr, the new imprint of Prometheus books, and I have to remark on how well the books look and feel. These books sport great cover art, and overall they simply look very classy. With the eye-catching Pyr logo on the spine, the overall design of these books really stands out. Fortunately, the stories within have delivered, too.
© 2005 Rob H. Bedford