Sep 20, 2008: After 32 chapters, I’m having a hard time figuring out what to say about A ‘Verse Full of Scum. At times, it works, and works well. At other times, it’s just okay.
The story is told first person by Ghost, a bounty hunter in a somewhat Firefly/Serenity universe. He’s hired by a government operative from one of the rich "civilized" planets to capture Pietre Gans, a "Magicker" responsible for several brutal murders. Gans is fleeing as fast as he can to the lawless outer rim worlds, possibly hoping to disappear. The government operative wants him captured—preferably alive—but doesn’t want to be involved. Perhaps in case things go wrong. Perhaps because there is more going on than she is letting on.
As the story progresses, Ghost finds himself the central figure in an important prophecy of a religion he doesn’t believe in. It complicates his life, and brings even more eyes and hands into his life—not a comfortable thing for a man who lives and works in the shadows. And it makes him wonder if he isn’t seeing the real picture—if he is in fact an unwilling pawn in someone else’s game. Judging from the author’s other works, it seems likely this clash of religion and objective reality is the true crux of the story, but the story has only begun to head in that direction. One thing I will say is that once this prophecy kicks in, the plot picks up pace significantly, and becomes interesting. In little time, everybody in the ‘Verse is after him, and (in Chapter 32) he’s quickly running out of time to get his job done.
In terms of the writing, the story seems to want to evoke Deckard’s voiceover in the original version of BladeRunner, or perhaps a journal Ghost is keeping as he is travelling. We get a mix of action described in past tense and conversational musings about what it all means and where he should go next, in present tense. As a style, I think it can work (I certainly hope so, I have a story written similarly), but, here, the transitions between frames aren’t tightly controlled, making the narrative seem, at times, muddy and sloppy. In the end, I found the effect more distracting than effective.
A larger problem is that Ghost just isn’t very interesting to listen to. His voice lacks warmth, lacks depth—it isn’t funny, it isn’t snarky, it isn’t angsty, it isn’t gleefully vicious . . . it isn’t anything. It’s bland. He could report business news on local TV. Add to that the fact that he constantly makes intuitive leaps and is always right about them . . . it would be easier to swallow in a third person narrative, perhaps, but here, everything just seems to work for him—even when it doesn’t. Everything’s too easy. We never once fear for him—even when he’s fighting for his life.
That all said, while Ghost (and the other characters) never really become interesting, the plot really does pick up when the prophecy kicks in—enough to make you want to find out what happens.
I think if you like space westerns, or bounty hunter/detective stories in general, you’ll probably want to check out A ‘Verse Full of Scum. If you stick with it into chapter 15 (don’t worry—they are short chapters), you’ll probably find yourself wanting to finish it. But if those genres aren’t your thing, I think you’ll find very little other reason to persevere.
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