Titanborn by Rhett C. Bruno. Originally published by Hydra, an imprint of Random House, June 2016. Approx. 241 pages.
HachiSnax Note: I received an e-ARC of the book from the author in return for a fair and honest review. This is what I plan to offer. My assessment of the book will not be influenced in any way. Thanks for reading!
Almost two years ago I reviewed a book by Rhett Bruno, which was the first installment in an ambitious trilogy. It was called The Circuit: Executor Rising, and it was chock full of great world building concepts and thoroughly fleshed out characters.
So, you can probably understand my excitement at getting a chance to review his newest novel, which promised to be a nice, gritty little slice of bounty hunter sci-fi. Let's start with the blurb:
"In this gritty and innovative science fiction thriller, turmoil on one of Saturn’s moons rattles Earth’s most powerful citizens—and draws one planet-hopping rogue into a fight he never saw coming.
Malcolm Graves lives by two rules: finish the job, and get paid. After thirty years as a Collector, chasing bounties and extinguishing rebellions throughout the solar system, Malcolm does what he’s told, takes what he’s earned, and leaves the questions to someone else—especially when it comes to the affairs of offworlders.
But his latest mission doesn’t afford him that luxury. After a high-profile bombing on Earth, the men who sign Malcolm’s paychecks are clamoring for answers. Before he can object, the corporation teams him up with a strange new partner who’s more interested in statistics than instinct and ships them both off to Titan, the disputed moon where humans have been living for centuries. Their assignment is to hunt down a group of extremists: Titanborn dissidents who will go to any length to free their home from the tyranny of Earth.
Heading into hostile territory, Malcolm will have to use everything he’s learned to stay alive. But he soon realizes that the situation on the ground is much more complex than he anticipated . . . and much more personal."
Ok, sounds great. Let's take a look at the book itself.
Titanborn takes place in 2334 AD, three centuries after a meteorite obliterated most of the Earth. At the time, survivors had left to colonize Titan, Saturn's largest moon. As the colony evolved, they found success in harvesting the gases surrounding Saturn. Meanwhile, on Earth, humanity rebuilt itself, never achieving the same grandeur it once held.
Now, a large percentage of the human race isn't even Earthborn. The descendants of the pilgrims to Titan are now so changed by their environment as to be almost an entirely different race: taller, lanky, near albino-white; the Titanborn. There are other "offworlders" born on Mars as well. There is a system of population control through which reproduction is legislated, leading to the rise of clan families in which arranged breedings are orchestrated.
There is a palpable level of tension between these different human factions: the Earthers look down on offworlders, and there are also a lot of illegitimate children who have to hustle through life with no identity to claim as their own. The Titanborn have true cause for frustration: recent events on Earth have driven droves of Earther to the fertile gas supply around Saturn. These immigrants find themselves getting plum jobs over the native Titanborn. Also, the Titanborn are so far removed from the Earth population that they can contract life threatening diseases from even the most mundane Earth germs. This has cultivated enough frustration and animosity that splinter resistance groups have begun to form.
There is one group that finds itself thriving despite the unrest - the corporate mega entities reaping the benefits of the gas harvesting. Foremost among these is Pervenio Corp. To maintain the integrity of their galaxy spanning assets, Pervenio contracts a group of bounty hunting/problem solving experts know an "Collectors". Titanborn is the story of one such Collector, a thirty-year jaded veteran named Malcolm Graves.
While cooling his heels on a forced vacation on Earth following a job botched by shoddy intel, Graves finds himself embroiled in a terrorist bombing on Earth's biggest holidar. Although on the outs with the Pervenio higher-ups, he finds himself on the case of finding the culprits - members of a deadly offworld cell known as the Children of Titan. Their motto: "From ice to ashes." And they are hell-bent on realizing that goal.
As the stakes become higher and the severity of the situation unfolds, Pervenio opts to pair Graves up with a partner. This is a first for the veteran, who has never been saddled with an "official" partner. Moreover, this partner is a young man just pushed out of a secretive program called the "Cogent Initiative". This program optimizes all the applicable skills of gifted children to make them essentially purely efficient collecting machines. This young Cogent, Zhaff, has that frightening efficiency, but he lacks any social development. He has no personal desires, needs no bounty, he just collects.
Heading offworld in pursuit of their quarry, while racing a rival Collector and discovering the true depth of the separatist group, Graves and Zhaff find that every step they take could very well be their last.
So, I'll say right off the bat that I really enjoyed Titanborn. This is the second book in a row that I've read by Bruno which combines rich characterization with thorough world building.
First, the characters. As a lead, there are a lot of familiar physical elements to Malcolm Graves: the pistol packing, trench coat wearing, grizzled, worlds weary veteran. However, Bruno makes him very much his own person. Graves is well-balanced; resourceful but with plenty of flaws. He carries a lot of regrets; especially those surrounding his illegitimate, illegal, estranged daughter Aria. He's pretty tired of the collecting life, but doesn't know anything else. And, even though he knows how inherently odious the mega-corporations are, he willingly turns a blind eye to the bigger picture, so long as the checks clear.
Then, there is Zhaff. The Cogent is an interesting, compelling character, especially given that he is bereft of social skills. But picture a lean faced, tightly coiled killing machine and you get a pretty good idea of him. It is the classic case of seeing if being placed with the right partner will coax some emotive aspect to come to the surface.
The supporting cast are well-done, also. What really stands out for me is how real Bruno made the Titanborn; their physical appearance, and their attitudes. There are a lot of strong thematic elements rolling under the narrative, and a lot of them are tied into the residents of Titan.
Next, comes the world-building. This is what Bruno does that I really enjoy. His concepts for mankind's expansion past Terra, shown in both this book and in the Circuit series, are as exciting as they are logical. In Titanborn, he has conceived of a believable presentation of life and the economy surrounding Saturn's largest moon.
And finally, just a quick note: there is plenty of action here as well, and it is done well. There's a bit of cursing too; just as a warning. Nothing overdone; it plays off of the tone of the narrative.
Now, if there is anything that I have an issue with, it's the first-person perspective. I only mention this because it is obvious that Bruno has a huge amount of world-building detail that he wants to paint the background with, but he also wants to tell the story entirely through Graves' interior monologue. This isn't always the best fit; there is simply too much expository description and location detailing. Especially when you think about it; I would think that a veteran bounty hunter would keep his/her thoughts and sentences as economical as possible.
See, you can tell that while Bruno is telling the tale, he is visually storyboarding it as well. A better structure for Titanborn would've had descriptive paragraphs interspersed throughout Graves' narration.
But, either way, the whole story gets told. It's just that adding all the detail to Graves' monologue sometimes breaks the flow, especially in the moments that need to move at a breakneck speed.
Still a solid story, though. And, it closes with a great ending. Plus, the Titanborn universe is fertile ground for further stories.
Titanborn is available starting 6/21. Check it out. Thanks again to Rhett C. Bruno and Hydra for furnishing this ebook to me.
Well, to be honest, the edition I received didn't have the cover yet. But anyway, this is a simple cover, but it contains central elements to the story. It becomes more poignant after reading the book.
Cover Final Score: