Friday, August 15, 2014

The Circuit: Executor Rising

The Circuit: Executor Rising by Rhett C. Bruno. Originally published by Mundania Press, June 2014. Approx. 264 pages.

HachiSnax Note: I was given a copy of this story by the author in exchange for a fair and honest review, and I intend to do just that. This is a first for me, and I appreciate it and thank Mr. Bruno for the opportunity. I would also like to mention that the author also informed me that this version was in the process of going through a new editor, and I could expect to see some typos within. There are some, but since I was informed in advance, I am not taking off points for it.

The Circuit: Executor Rising is a solid debut novel by Rhett C. Bruno (not counting a fantasy series he self-published while still in high school) that blends dark sci-fi with cinematic storytelling. It is set in a deftly created world where mankind has left the desolated Earth for a conglomeration of civilized outposts along the galaxy (the titular Circuit). In this opening act, we follow a quartet of players as their lives become intertwined (and re-intertwined) as they are caught in the midst of a power upheaval.

Before getting into the characters and power plays which are the crux of the tale, it's a good idea to look at the civilization the Bruno has crafted. The smattering of territories form what is known as the Kepler Circuit, and now, 500 years into this system, there is a reigning dogmatic governmental structure known as the New Earth Tribunal (lorded over by four individual, supremely powerful Tribunes). There is also an outland on Ceres, where strong anti-Tribunal sentiment brews. And finally, the is the energy source which fuels the power struggles: Gravitum. Gravitum is a mineral that was first discovered within the Earth's mantle; and, in true human fashion, over-zealous digging to mine it caused the apocalypse which ravaged the Earth. It is still a fiercely-coveted commodity, so much so that recently freighters carrying it have been getting boarded and hijacked. Which brings us to the story.....

TC:ER opens with guns blazing, as a lethal android killing machine named ADIM takes control of another freighter bearing Gravitum. Seeing a robot in action is quite an anomaly in 500 KC; their manufacture and usage has been deemed blasphemous by the Tribunal. In fact, any remaining robotics are relegated to the most menial tasks in wastelands like Ceres. And yet, this ADIM droid works with pinpoint precision at the behest of his "Creator", one Cassius Vale. Vale is the most dynamic character in the book, a bitter and enraged former Tribune that has lost all that he ever held dear, and who is harboring a grand plan to make a clean slate. Vale is charged by the Tribune, and begrudgingly agrees, to help investigate and discover the source of these attacks. There is no love lost on either side between him and his former co-Tribunes. They fully suspect his involvement in the attacks, and he gleefully keeps them in the dark.

Before going on, I should point out the ADIM is, in fact, one of the four primary players in this book. Where Vale is the most dynamic, the android is easily the most sympathetic. Somehow, Vale imparted to him a sense of consciousness, and ADIM spends a good deal of his page time attempting to rationalize, and juggling the concepts of forming an independent identity as well as seeking to appease his Creator. I've heard it said that one of the most tired tropes in sci-fi is to have a Neon-Genesis (now where have I heard that term before....) story, where the final two characters are named Adam and Eve.  Bruno does it one better and plays on a God/Adam narrative, as Vale clearly sees beings like his android as the real future.

Now, reading up to this point, you might be wondering what is the "Executor Rising" portion of the title? Executors are operatives of the Tribune which possess "certain sets of skills" to allow them to handle the dirty work that allows a benevolent society to thrive. The Circuit focuses on one young Executor named Sage Volus, a red haired beauty with a murky past and a lethal, cybernetic arm. After a close call taking down a would be bombing strike by a Ceresian fanatic in the Mars colony of New Terrene, she is dispatched by Benjar Vakari, the most odious of the current Tribunes, to get to the bottom of the freighter heists. Sage adopts a deep cover identity and heads to Ceres to see what is going on.

While Ceres is populated mostly by society's outcasts, it of course falls onto someone to pull the strings. Out of the grasp of the Tribune, assorted banking cartels don that mantle in Ceresian society. A scion to one of these Houses tasks a former family bodyguard turned miner named Talon Rayne with conducting a dangerous mission. Talon, suffering from an affliction known as the Blue Death (caused by exposure to Gravitum), accepts, and fate arranges it so that Sage is in his party. From this point, all the characters' fates converge on the grand finale.

TC:ER is structured in a manner that the arcs primarily involving Vale and ADIM serve as bookends. The introductions of Sage and Talon, their mission, and other background information, comprises the bulk of the rest of the book. As mentioned before, the Vale/ADIM portions end up being the truly engaging ones.

The best thing about The Circuit is that Bruno has a definite vision of the world he has created: from the composition to the governmental factors, economics and day to day exchanges. He does his best to fill a lot of details into what is actually a compact, quick read. I will say this: make sure to read the blurb on either goodreads or Amazon, for it provides a good background primer. In my opinion, that info would have been better included as a page or two at the beginning of the book.

To say that the best thing is the world-building does not imply that it is the only good thing. TC:ER is, at heart, a character-driven book. And even though ADIM may be the most sympathetic character, you find yourself rooting for all the main characters, despite their flaws. Like I've said, the best scenes in the book go to Vale and ADIM, but there are solid foundations set for Sage and Talon. For reasons beyond her control, we do not get to see all there is to Sage in this introductory book, so that is another reason to look forward to Book 2. Talon, as well, doesn't get a full story arc either. We spend a lot of time getting to know him, feeling his pains and his frustrations, and then he is out of the picture. Sure to return, but we still feel left hanging a bit.

Bruno's bio says that he is pursuing writing for screenplays and video games. I would say that might be the perfect niche for him. I mentioned at the beginning that the book has a cinematic quality to it, and it is the truth. Every scene feels meticulously storyboarded, yielding some stellar fight scenes (especially those with ADIM). However, at times, there also seems to be an oversaturation of description. When characters are introduced, it is similar to stage directions. I don't mean this in a bad way, since I am glad to have a clear picture of who I am reading about.

Other than that, there are a few facets in which Bruno just needs a little more polish that more books will iron out. Towards the beginning of The Circuit, there are chunks where there are simply too many modifiers all around. As the author hones his craft, he'll learn to tap into the reader's mindset with well-placed words rather than a plethora of words. And again, it's better to have too much detail rather than no detail.

Just a final note, TC:ER pushes the limits of a PG-13 rating and borders on R territory. There is some adult language and adult situations, along with some real brutal violence (which is fine by me). Nothing gratuitous, and all well choreographed. Enjoy this book; I sure did!

Here's what it is:
The Circuit: Executor Rising is a well planned out opener to an exciting series populated by fully realized characters (no cardboard cutouts). Power plays and shadow games culminate in an explosive finale. 

Final Score:


Cover Score:

Nothing too special here, and at least it tries to incorporate elements from the storyline. The font and color scheme are nice enough. Let's be honest; it's word of mouth that will drive sales of this book, not the cover. However, if you want to see something that does justice to the content, head over to Bruno's website and check out the great pic of ADIM there. 

Cover Final Score:


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