August Kitko and the Mechas from Space, Alex White (Orbit 978-0-7564-1483-2, $17.99, 464 pp, tp) July 2022.
August Kitko and the Mechas from Space is the first book in Alex White’s Starmetal Symphony series. It does pretty much what it says on the tin: jazz musician August Kitko finds himself thrown into a battle against mechas from space. The fate of humankind hangs in the balance. It’s excellent fodder for a space opera/rock opera. There’s good. There is evil. There is weirdness. And there is over-the-top celebrity behavior.
The year is 2657. White flings us immediately onto the French Riviera where some very wealthy people have gathered for a concert. The Earth appears to be next in line for the Vanguards, a gang of mecha who are devouring humans on the planets and habitats we’ve settled. What’s worse are the Gilded Ghosts, smaller robots who eat the brains of people, then act like the person they’ve consumed. It’s been a lot to deal with here on Earth, and folks are partying like there’s no tomorrow. Because what else are you going to do when it’s the end of the world as you know it?
Kitko, our reserved jazz man, hooks up with pop star Ardent Violet, whose fame (and infamy) is bigger than 1980s-era Madonna. Neither expects to see the other again. But events occur. The world fails to end. And Gus is now the human mind of Graymalkin, a mecha who has switched sides. From there, the plot grows frenetic and fun.
It’s that propulsive plot and a couple of the cinematic-scale set pieces that make the book. There’s imagination stuffed in every single page – and that’s part of the problem. Rather than polish the nuggets that really work, White just keeps spinning out ideas and images in the hopes that one of them will land. Too many of them don’t.
This throw-everything-at-the-wall ethos applies to the mechanics of White’s prose as well. Some writers – I’m thinking of Cat Valente’s Space Opera here – can overstuff their sentences and make them sing. White doesn’t yet have the finesse to pull off what they’re attempting to do with words, which causes the rocket of a plot to fizzle and fade.
Adrienne Martini has been reading or writing about science fiction for decades and has had two non-fiction, non-genre books published by Simon and Schuster. She lives in Upstate New York with one husband, two kids, and one corgi. She also runs a lot.
This review and more like it in the December 2022 issue of Locus.
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