Saturday, May 10, 2008

Book Review: Datashark

A few months back, my father sent me a copy of a novel published by a St. Louis small-press called Neshui Press. The novel is called Datashark, by Ryan Jones. For some reason, the novel is not listed (?!) on the Neshui web site.

Datashark is a techno-thriller. Recall I discussed a week or so back that the techno-thriller is a cousin of sorts to hard SF, and I think the fans of both genres ought to mingle more often. But, I digress. As always, I try to review with minimal spoilers.

The novel is the first published for Ryan Jones. He does a credible job of story-telling with a plot that is really a cross between cyberpunk and techno-thriller. The ending leaves no doubt in which category this book falls.

There are certainly some first-novel mistakes. (We all make those. When a publisher finally nibbles at mine, you can point them out to me.) The book is written in multiple points of view, to the extent that I lost count of the number of POV characters. I also had some trouble keeping track of who is who, something I expect when I read Tolstoy, not a modern novelist. At times, there are three points of view on a single page, separated only by a section break, and that gets a bit dizzying.

I also occasionally had some trouble willfully suspending disbelief, but that can be something of a fingerprint of the genre. When things go wrong in a techno-thriller, they have to go very wrong. In the case of Datashark, there are two conspiracies. On one side, a power-mad Lieutenant General (3 stars) and his cronies have control of a super-secret NSA facility intended to wage cyber-war on America's enemies. On the other side, a group of mostly government employees is monitoring government corruption and is ready to take action.

The lines are a bit too clean for me, despite one character apparently put in to blur them a little. Successes and failures seemed a bit too easy. Then again, I sometimes have similar issues with Tom Clancy's work, so Jones is in good company.

That aside, it is a fast-paced story with good underlying tension and plenty of action. The military encounters are believable, with description enough to visualize the action, but not so much to bog down the reader with excessive play-by-play. The book was obviously well researched, and it's difficult for a reader not "in the know" to find where the research ends and the extrapolation begins.

Despite the few structural weaknesses I mentioned above, I enjoyed the book. It's a pretty fast read with probably a PG-13 rating. The book had a satisfying conclusion, though I think had Jones just ended the story sans epilogue it would have been more effective. Overall, I'll give the book 3 of 4 stars. Well done for a first novel.


Penguin said...

Rick: Look for Kunati Books of Canada. I am having my debut novel HUNTING THE KING published by them. But you may be interested in another Kunati writer's work. It's by Dan Ronco and it's called UNHOLY DOMAIN. I would call that a techno-thriller.

Rick Novy said...

Thanks for the tip.