REVIEW: Artificial

Artificial by Jadah McCoy

In the future, humans battle for their life in Elite City. Like in many dystopias, humans destroyed the earth through their own hubris. The humans created the androids, the androids disappeared, leaving humanity to its fate. . That is, after the androids (the Glitches) developed emotions. Massive, bug like Culls show up, and Syl learns that the androids created a plague to turn humans into Culls, infesting the human cities and wiping out the remaining, normal humans. The initial info dump was necessary because some of this background information is confusing. It’s not the sleekest of world building, which is an unfortunate trend throughout this story.

I didn’t care about Syl. There’s nothing to her beyond the plot. She’s a plot piece, and that makes the entire story thin. I can’t understand why Bastion likes her. For me, this undermined the entire book, and there wasn’t anything else to save it. Syl wasn’t surrounded by a stellar cast of characters, either. I didn’t care about Lucca or Sarge. The characters are spectacularly boring early on, which is a killer for me. I will forgive a lot of faults if there are fleshed out and exciting characters. Bastion and the introduction of New Elite City is a relief in the narrative, but it’s ultimately not enough to rescue this book.

The action sequences work, and there are some nice death jump scenes. Even though there’s action, it started to feel as if nothing was happening, and I’m sure my dislike of the characters furthered that feeling. I was always waiting for there to be something more to this story, but if you don’t like this book in the first twenty pages, there’s no more depth to it. If you can get over the characters, maybe something else in this story will interest you. If the characters were more engaging–or built more organically with this future world–this would’ve been a better read.

This is the first in a series, and I’m not hooked. If there was anything to hold back for a second book, it should’ve gone into Artificial to make it more interesting. Sci-fi and fantasy need real depth in at least one area–character, plot, setting–to push the story over the edge into an enjoyable read. None of those areas quite delivered for me. Let me take a moment to speculate on why (but I’m not telling other authors how to do their jobs, just swapping the reader’s brain for the writer’s brain). There should be a potential between all the elements in a story, making the sum greater than its additive parts. In great novels, a positive feedback develops between the world, the character, and the setting, blending with the author’s voice and creating greater themes in the work. None of that is present here, and it’s because everything feels like it’s there to serve (a weak) plot. My bias is that I personally believe there are few plots (and authors that plot like gangbusters) that sustain a novel and keep me solely reading based on plot alone. There are plenty of novels with ‘meh’ plots but engaging, fully-realized characters and quirky, meandering world-building that keep me reading right to the end and are memorable, even though I’ve guessed how the story will end. Plot is not enough. Even the most careful plotters, if they’ve written their stories well, can only fool the eagle-eyed reader to an extent. This is where the quirks of the setting and the vibrancy of characters is needed: to sustain the story between major plot moments. This book has a plot, but there was nothing to sustain the story, which is what really matters.

Notes:

  • There’s a bit of an early info dump. If you’re not interested after reading it, put the book down. That’s all there is to this world and the world-building therein.
  • The Culls are great. They’re gross and were the most interesting element of this story for me.
  • This story should’ve maybe been about Bastion. He wasn’t much more interesting than Syl, enough so that he helped make this read manageable. This would’ve been DNF without Bastion.
  • If you can get into Syl’s character, there’s some great early book action scenes.
  • Why can’t they tell Syl is a human? Why??? They’re androids. I’d think they’d be able to tell. This drove me freaking nuts.

Rating: 2 stars

There was so much in this book I thought I’d like (perpetually on the look-out for non-human centered sci-fi) but the characters all ended up feeling thin. Syl and Bastion are barely memorable, let alone anyone in the supporting cast, and they all feel like they’re there as plot chess pieces. Artificial unfortunately wasn’t an engaging read.

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