Liz Bourke Reviews Hard Reboot by Django Wexler

Hard Reboot, Django Wexler (Tordotcom 978-1-250-79026-2, $14.99, 150pp, tp) May 2021.

Django Wexler’s Hard Reboot is a standalone sci­ence fiction novella from the author of Ashes of the Sun (2020) and the Wells of Sorcery trilogy (Ship of Smoke and Steel, City of Stone and Silence, Siege of Rage and Ruin). It sets itself in a far-future where Earth is a relatively lawless backwater in a human society that has colonised the stars – and replicated inherited class hierarchies there as well.

Kas is a young scholar who’s come to Earth as part of a research team. What she doesn’t realise at first is that she’s supposed to do the work and her higher-status (and fairly mannerless) colleague is supposed to get the credit to burnish her career. Kas is passionate about Earth antiquities. Unfortunately, she’s just been conned into wagering money she doesn’t have – money from her university’s funds – on the outcome of a fight between crewed robot prizefighters. And lost.

Zhi’s the robot pilot who conned Kas into betting money she doesn’t have. Zhi’s is a hardscabble life, and she figures that Kas is a rich offworld with a cushy life who can afford it. But Kas can’t afford it, and in order to solve the problems that attend Kas’s now-debt, she finds herself forced to co-operate with Zhi. Zhi, meanwhile, is aiming for a big robot-fighting score, after success in which she’ll cancel Kas’s debt to her – and while they’re working together, they each develop sympathy for each other’s predica­ments. Sympathy, common interests and adversaries, and more than a little attraction: Zhi and Kas find themselves drawn together. What starts as reluctant co-operation turns into willing partnership, both personal and professional.

Wexler has a deft touch for appealing characters (and for writing believable queer women: I’ve yet to read a novel of his that doesn’t feature a queer relationship) and for vivid action. Hard Reboot is a well-paced and very enjoyable novella that involves academic politics and giant fighting robots, which is apparently the route to my heart. Short, sharp, and sweet: I recommend it to your attention.

Liz Bourke is a cranky queer person who reads books. She holds a Ph.D in Classics from Trinity College, Dublin. Her first book, Sleeping With Monsters, a collection of reviews and criticism, is out now from Aqueduct Press. Find her at her blog, her Patreon, or Twitter. She supports the work of the Irish Refugee Council and the Abortion Rights Campaign.

This review and more like it in the May 2021 issue of Locus.

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