Author: Mack J. Lou
Publication date: July 11, 2020
Genre: Science Fiction
One Sentence Summary: When the network allowing people to thought-stream each other remotely is abruptly shut off, a group of 4 scientists race to figure out why and how to solve the problem before Nousopolis is destroyed.
I was hooked when the description mentioned people can communicate through thought. And then to have that shut down? I was intrigued and needed to know what was going to happen next. I was also sold on the fact that one of the main characters is a mom of two as I am as well, and that some of the characters are scientists. The one thing that didn’t real sell me on it was the 17 year old prodigy, which made my mind racing to YA, but she’s just one character and everything else sounded intriguing, so I decided I had to give this one a try.
The Writing: A Strange Mix of Novel and Script
I find I must start this review by discussing the writing. The format is a bit strange, a kind of mix between novel and script, especially with how the dialogue was formatted. This made it really easy to follow who was speaking, but, especially when reading it aloud, it felt disjointed and lacked emotion behind it, lending an odd detached air to the book that made me struggle with connecting to and immersing myself into the story. It felt like it was trying to be cerebral, but, with extensive technical jargon, frequent acronyms, parentheticals offering information and clarification that should have been woven into the narrative, and a confusing mix of simple and sophisticated vocabulary, only manages to hold the reader at a distance and make the whole book feel stilted.
While Nousopolis proved to be virtually all tell and no show and was definitely full of rough writing, there were still some fun bits The strange cross between novel and script was actually amusing and lent a cinematic feel, despite being a strange way to write a novel. I couldn’t decide if the author happened to be new to writing fiction or was trying to push some boundaries. I did appreciate some of the fun expressions one of the characters used frequently. They were funny and, as much as I thought they were a bit nutty, I did grow to appreciate them and look forward to what would come out of his mouth next.
The Plot: A Sci-Fi Action Novel
Some distance into Earth’s future, it’s a perfectly ordinary day in Nousopolis. Janet, a widowed mother of two, is thought-streaming with one of her colleagues on a big project. Then an alert comes in from the government warning of something wrong with the system. All residents are advised to disconnect and not thought-stream or try to reconnect. Worried, Janet hurries to her children’s school.
But it doesn’t get better. In fact, the entire city is advised to go into stasis until the matter can be resolved. Suspicious and feeling certain they might be able to help, Janet and her colleagues, Rob and John, choose to not go into stasis in order to help solve the problem. During their attempts to communicate without thought-streaming, they are contacted by Zoe, an adolescent prodigy who also refused to go into stasis.
Zoe informs them she has also uncovered concerning data. They pool together their resources and information only to uncover something that goes far deeper, and might actually go all the way to the top. And they’re the only ones who can do something about it.
In many ways, Nousopolis reads like a science fiction action movie. While there were some interesting technical bits to support the story, it felt like a string of action scenes loosely tied together by piecing the puzzle of what’s going on into some semblance of order and explanation.
The idea of the story was quite interesting, but I was disappointed by how it was executed. Everything felt a little too easy for the characters, despite the action heavy scenes that told a different story. In terms of solving what’s going on, it just felt too easy, too convenient, especially with having a young prodigy onboard. There was no real tension when the quartet moved ahead with their plans, especially when they came into contact with authorities in higher positions and people who had no clue who they were or what they were up to. It was disappointingly convenient, though it did make the story fly by because there was no tension and no opposition.
One thing I have to note is that all of the main characters are in some way a scientist. Being married to a scientist, I found the scenes involving their differences of opinion quite amusing. This is where all the tension went, but, at times, it also felt childish. Still, it tickled me because it isn’t far from the truth, and it offered just enough for me to want to keep going.
The Characters: A Scientific Quartet
There are four main characters in Nousopolis: Janet, Rob, John, and Zoe. They were each distinct with their own personalities, which made their clashes that much more fun, but it was still hard to get a real sense of them to make me believe they could be human.
As a mother, I was most interested in Janet, but her children are safely escorted off the pages early on, so it was hard to see her as a mother and she ended up feeling more like a standard scientist with no interesting story line. John felt younger and, not quite naive, but had a fun youthful streak and wavering self-confidence that made him endearing. Rob felt older, wiser, and more cautious, but, being ex-military, he came equipped with all kinds of interesting gear. Zoe is quite the young whippersnapper. She’s brash and incredibly confident as a prodigy, but was off putting by how self-righteous she is in thinking only her ideas are valid and correct. However, she kind of fits “scientist” to a T.
Together, they created a bit of a patchwork crew trying desperately to solve a problem while too many clashing ideas and personalities threatened to make it all implode. It made sense that they did go off and pursue their own ends, but it felt too easy when they were confronted with opposition, only for them to proudly and authoritatively announce they are scientists and everyone needs to listen to them, and they do. While the scientists did seem like they knew what was going on and how to fix it, it felt like it made every other character, in contrast, sound like an idiot.
The Setting: Future Earth
At some point in Earth’s future, a series of cities were erected, including Nousopolis. They exist both above and below ground, though the above ground proves to be quite toxic, requiring the characters to don special safety suits. While fascinating, the details are scarce, so, other, than tunnels where self-driving vehicles run amok, it’s difficult to visualize exactly what this new reality looks like. It’s an interesting concept, but lacks enough details to bring the world to life.
While I enjoy being dropped into a world and told to “go,” I also found it difficult to reconcile the Earth I know and the future Earth Nousopolis describes. There’s no real history or background to it to explain how and why society evolved this way. There’s no real background for how the RAMRIC system and R-field that allows thought-streaming was developed, but plenty on how it operates. This world simply exists, but leaves me struggling after the why. An interesting concept, but too free floating.
Overall: Tons of Potential
There were several pieces about Nousopolis that drew me in: a mother as main character, communication via thoughts, a breakdown in the system, and scientists as main characters. Together, there was the potential for an amazing, thought-provoking, hard hitting science fiction novel. Instead, it simply dumped out the science and focused on the action, on the dangers the characters faced. The writing was disappointing, though the cross between novel and script was both amusing and a little jarring. The story also took some turns that had me cringing and thinking of cliches, and just had me wishing for a better developed story that really brought the world and characters to life so the real danger of the infection in the system could feel more menacing.
Great if you enjoy: action-packed novels, scientists, genius adolescents, future Earth reimaginings; novel approaches to writing
Not great if you’re looking for: in-depth stories; hard hitting sci-fi; smooth storytelling, impeccable writing
How many cups of tea will you need?
3 cups should do
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Thank you to the author, Mack J. Lou, for a free e-copy. All opinions expressed are my own.
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