The Nemesis List

By R J Frith

The Nemesis List by R.J. Frith
The Nemesis List was the winner of the 'War Of The Words' competition recently run by the fabulous genre publisher Tor and specialist Sci-Fi magazine SciFiNow. The competition was devised to find the UK's best new SF writer and apparently, R J Frith is it. Now it's burden enough for any writer to be labelled 'the next big...' anything so I expected good things from this book, and while it's a competent enough debut it's not the ground-breaking new SF writing I had hoped for.

In a distant future where humans have advanced into the far corners of space despite an autocratic and overbearing Government rigidly controlling all technical and scientific advances - on punishment of death - ex-soldier Frank Pak is concerned with just one thing, keeping his ship running. Where criminals trade illegal tech out on the edges of space, Frank tries to do the right thing, keeping the right side of the law despite the distinctly unprofitable side effects, so when he's offered a lucrative contract to escort a runaway back home - he doesn’t ask questions.

But this cargo is way more dangerous than Frank realises. Far from being any ordinary passenger, Jeven Jones is the result of illegal human experimentation, a fast-tracked evolutionary leap into future, and with his ability for perfect recall along with a set of mental skills that he cannot control, Jones is a wanted man. The Government that made him wants him dead, while a fledgling revolution needs him to unlock every technical advancement the Government has ever denied them and now Frank Pak and his ever questioning crew are fighting to keep Jones, and themselves, alive. If Jones lives he’ll start a war. If he dies the entire future of humanity dies with him.

The Nemesis List purports to be a gripping new space opera but in reality it lacks the scope for that particular moniker and at it's heart it's really a mystery/thriller which, while having one or two nice touches, does nothing particularly new. The main plot of a government-created superbeing trying to bring down it's creators might have a couple of half-decent twists but in reality it's an old hat idea and the characters, despite being reasonably well rounded are familiar stereotypes. Haine the bitter, shoot-first-ask-questions-later ex-marine hard-ass is the 'muscle', Kady the tough-but-sensitive, do-the-right-thing, almost love-interest of Pak is the 'conscience' and Foley, the solidly dependable pilot/engineer - and the least well-drawn of any of them - is the 'rock'. The bad guys don't fair much better, Nash is the uncompromising bad guy, his sidekick is quiet and hesitant and gets killed - it's all so predictable. Don't get me wrong, I can live with stereotypes, they become stereotypes because they work, but make them interesting and - most importantly - make me care about them because I felt no empathy with any of these folk.

However, the real issue I have with The Nemesis List is that it's a confused read. I'm not sure if it's the writing, the editing, the rush to get the winning book out there or a combination of all three but on several occasions I had to go back and re-read sections because I just couldn't figure out what had happened or who was fighting who for what reason. What doesn't help is that Chapters cut back and forth in time between current story and Jones as a child, with name changes and random new characters being introduced, and frankly I found it hard to really hit a rhythm which didn't help my enjoyment at all.

It's not all bad news though, there are nice touches in the descriptive prose and in the dialogue, some of the world-building and technology are interesting and the action is quite nicely done generating some real tension in places but in the end it's not enough to completely redeem things and the ending sets up a sequel, or series of books, so there's not even the sense of closure that might put things into perspective as you finish and I'm not sure I care enough about the characters to find out more.

In the end it's a creditable attempt but a messy execution. Hats of to R J Frith for being able to write a book and for beating out hundreds of others to win the competition but this is very much the first step along a long road and I hope his next effort - for I feel sure there will be one - is shepherded much more carefully out of the Tor gate.

The Nemesis List is published by Tor through Pan Macmillan and is available from Amazon, Blackwell and all good book stores.

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