They Didn't Ask Me (dr_phil_physics) wrote,
They Didn't Ask Me

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Flex The Flux

So back in March -- was it just March of 2015? -- my online and con friend Ferrett Steinmetz came out with his debut novel Flex (DW) (LJ).
I pre-ordered this from Amazon way back on 14 April 2014 and it arrived yesterday, 4 March 2015. Yeah, publishing can take a while. I devoured 92 pages Wednesday night and then polished off the rest in sessions on Thursday on either side of a doctor's appointment.
This time, The Flux was pre-ordered from Amazon on 21 May 2015 and arrived on its release day, Tuesday 6 October 2015 -- just 216 days after Flex. Yeah, those publishers can be brutal after that first book. Not even a year between books? Now you know why I want at least the first two books in my YA series completed as I go to shop the first. I'm not crazy. (grin) Well, I am, but not stupid crazy.

Anyway, I cracked this open Friday evening and finished it before midnight Saturday. Devoured. Yum.

The Flux / Ferrett Steinmetz. Nottingham UK : Angry Robot, New York : Random House, 2015., paperback, $7.99. ***

Flex itself is a drug -- magic distilled into a drug. Which gives you magic, even if you aren't magical. Now I don't write much fantasy, but as a Physicist, one of the things I can really appreciate in fantasy is applications of conservation laws regarding the use of magic. Magic should have a cost. And that cost is the Flux.

The first book has our hero Paul learning the ropes of magic and making Flex. The second book is about consequences. Going all out AND pulling punches. But most especially, this book is the things we do for love -- good or bad.

So. Sequel. Second book. That's a lot of pressure on both the writer and the reader. But as noted above, the first wasn't all that long ago, so it was pretty fresh in my mind even without a re-read. That Flex was so lovingly unique and memorable sure as hell didn't hurt.

Ferrett talks about the Four Things I Learned About Sequels From The Empire Strikes Back. Ah, young Jedi, learned well your lessons you have. Here's my reactions to the first evening's reading:

Didn't see that coming.

Didn't see that coming.

Didn't see that coming.

Whoa, Did Not See That Coming.

It is too easy for the sequel to be a me-too effort rehash. Give the public what they want. But, and especially after such an original romp as the first, what we want is originality and some convolution. The very last thing I wanted out of The Flux was predictability. And our hero is a paperwork specialist, not some Big Damn Action Hero. So we don't want him to be one. On the contrary, what we want is for him to suffer. And it sure doesn't hurt to start off with a bang.

Oh I don't mean suffering to be mean. But you need conflicts and things to go bad, some of which can be fixed by the end. And if, along the way, you manage to uncover the reasons Why Things Are, especially even about the events in Book 1, well... you're on the way to something special.

Paul and his daughter are back, of course. And thankfully Valentine is, too. Valentine is... well, she's sort of the Big Damn Videogame Action Anti-Hero. She doesn't play by the same set of rules Paul does and doesn't always/mostly play nice with others -- she is her own spirit. And a great character.

It helps to know some references to videogames and videogame systems. Also movies -- one in particular which isn't even mentioned by name for quite a while after the reader hopefully knows what is being talked about. Now I rather famously don't play videogames, but I do keep up with titles and graphics. The Dr. Phil level of gaming is more than enough for me to get most of the references, even before they're named. So if you aren't a huge videogamer, then you will probably do all right. Frankly, I'm loving how all the techie/geekie stuff from the 80s onward is becoming the stuff of literature -- Ready Player One, for example. Mrs. Dr. Phil was reading a mystery series just now which has been moving from the 70s into the 90s, and she mentioned someone using a Zeos 386 PC. Man, I haven't thought about the Zeos in YEARS, so right now us Old Fogies™ have some advantages in reading over The Young Whippersnappers.

As an added bonus, we have a shifting array of good guys and bad guys. Some books you need a scorecard to keep up with what's going on. With The Flux that scorecard isn't going to help, much like one of my most favorite movies, Wim Wenders Until The End Of The World. (grin)

The third act almost bogs down with how far our hero has fallen, but then we wanted him to suffer and now I had to keep pressing on to find out how the hell he was going to get out of all this crap he's under. Well played.

Ah, Mister Steinmetz. I am going to have to deduct 1000 points, the standard deduction, for getting the Physics SI units wrong on the top of page 382. You almost made it to the end before you hit a derail and momentarily threw me out of the story so hard, I even remembered the damned page number when I wrote this review. Maybe it was a publisher's typo. I've had trouble with getting Physics terms/equations to come out right after typesetting -- E=mc² just isn't the same without that square.

Finally, I think you could read The Flux without having read Flex, but don't cheat yourself. This is a fine pair of books, and if you're like me, you'll HATE reading them out of order.


Back in March, I wrote about Flex, "To call this the Best Book I read in 2015 would be fairly disingenuous, seeing that the only other book I've read so far this year is half an anthology, which I should really finish." So, how do I compare two Ferrett Steinmetz novels? In part we're dealing with Dr. Phil's Rule of Sequels -- for which The Flux holds up quite admirably. But, as usual, I suspect I might have to give the nod to Flex based on the whole innocence of the first book trick. Still, it's a tight race and, much like the original Star Wars trilogy, a lot rests on the third book, The Fix. Full disclosure -- I've been one of the physicists consulted on How To Destroy Europe With 'Mancy for this third book. (big-huge-evil-grin)

Dr. Phil

PS -- the LJ icon above is from the release artwork from the videogame of Marjorie Liu's Tiger Eye, which I think is the only videogame icon I have in my collection.

PPS -- Dammit, just noticed I twice had The Flex instead of The Flux. This is hard enough to keep straight without typos!

*** -- In typical Amazon pricing fashion, my pre-order copy ended up discounted to $4.37. With free shipping. Go figure.
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Crossposted on LiveJournal
Tags: books, fantasy, reviews

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