– By J.W. Fox –
It’s been a while since I’ve had the chance to post a book review. Much to my disappointment, it has been very difficult to find a quality indie sci-fi novel. There is simply too much chaff, that it takes time to come across something of quality. When all is lost, I like to pick up a new book from a favorite author. I picked up Titanborn by Rhett C. Bruno because I am a fan of his work and read an early version of it a year or so back. With a whole year of revisions and an expanded plot, I was curious to see what direction he decided to take his sci-fi thriller.
Titanborn is the story of Malcolm Graves, a collector, which is a combination bounty hunter, detective, and assassin. After a major terrorist attack on an Earth rail station, Graves is tasked with tracking down and eliminating the perpetrators. With him is his new partner Zhaff, a conditioned human with incredible combat skills and intelligence but zero social skills, just like an android. The two discover that the attack was just the beginning of what could be a much broader conflict that could tear the Solar System apart.
The story takes places centuries in the future where humanity has colonized the Solar System after a meteor impact nearly killed off everyone and everything on Earth. There were two distinct emigration waves. The first left Earth around the time of the impact and fled to Titan. It was a private mission set in motion by a billionaire. The second wave was much later after humanity had a chance to recover and rebuild from the meteor. When the two groups reunite, it is tense to say the least. That tension between Earthers and Ringers is at the center of the bombing mystery.
Graves only cares about the job, not the politics. He is like a noir detective of the future, employed by a major corporation but with all the authority and immunities of a government agent. His apprehension at getting a new partner was reminiscent of those classic detective stories, police procedurals, and shoot’em ups from back in the day. He and Zhaff must track down the bomber, taking them across the Solar System. The terrorist pursuit is pretty exciting, although takes some time to develop. The first 40 pages are slow, setting the stage rather than advancing the plot. Once the story got up to speed it was difficult to put down.
What I loved most was the level of detail and well-developed world-building. Bruno builds a very compelling and plausible future scenario. The inner workings of the corporations, government authorities, and citizens reminded me of many of the recent popular space operas. Many are shifting towards a future where powerful corporations are the real authoritarian rulers while governments are the junior partners. There has also been an increase of interest in intra-stellar colonization rather than FTL travel across the galaxy.
At the same time, the use of corporate power structures is used as setting, not so much a thematic element. Many sci-fi novels that use the setting do not touch on economics, cronyism, or any of the other elements that usually come with the “evil corporations” theme. A small group of suppliers dominate the marketplace with monopolies on vital goods and services, eliminating competitors. Such restrictions inevitably bring about thriving black markets, piracy, and smuggling. Unfortunately, most authors do not go into much detail when it comes to economics. Instead, it is more like what puppet Tim Robbins said in Team America: “The corporations are greedy and act all corporationy, and they make money…”
As a big time policy nerd, I was a little disappointed Titanborn did not get into any relevant social commentary with the political and economic system but most readers won’t be bothered. It seems most readers have an animus against novels that have an obvious agenda.
The ending was satisfying but doesn’t deliver a real big shocking twist. By the middle of the book, you get a pretty good idea of the big picture. There are surprises and a pretty strong final scene but also a couple loose ends, laying the groundwork for a sequel.
In comparison to Bruno’s other works, I would say Titanborn was better than Executor Rising, but I am not sure it was as good as Progeny of Vale. I have no big criticisms but at the same time there was no particular element that really blew me away, aside from the detailed world-building. Fans of space operas and thrillers will love it, as well as most general sci-fi fans. Given the increasing popularity of space operas of late, I think it has a chance to really take off.
Jacob Foxx is the Editor of Prescientscifi.com and author of two novels: The Fifth World and the sequel The Fifth World: The Times That Try Men’s Souls. When he is not reading or writing science fiction, he works as a regulatory affairs consultant for small biotech companies in Raleigh, North Carolina.