The Cambridge Geek

Radioactive Evolution - Richard Hummel

Back into pseudo-GameLit territory now, with this book set in a dystopian future where someone (naming no tiny-handed orange people) decided to play Pong with nukes. As a result of that not terribly well thought out plan, the entire world is radioactive, and only the regular injection of radiation-processing nanites stops people from succumbing to radiation sickness and death.

Which is how Jared, our protagonist, finds himself digging through the remnants of New York for anything that looks even a bit like a spare nanite injector. Bit of a surprise then, when what he finds happens to turn out to be a dragon's nest and affiliated egg. One sneaky nanite injection later, and he discovers the impressive secret hidden in the coding of the tiny robots. Sharing them with a different species creates a bond, allowing each of the bonded pair to grow stronger and even gain special abilities.

Oh and dragons are real. They were just hiding through most of humanity's recent history.

Now Jared has to fight to keep himself and Scarlet, the friendly dragon, alive in a world filled with giant mutated monsters, and in which the majority of people eke out a difficult existence in the ruined landscape. It's a harsh life, with the settlements only able to keep going through nanite delivery from the great sky cities where all the rich people live, after they sneaked off to avoid the radioactive fallout polluting the ground. Perfect setup, then, for a quick bit of revolution, as long as he can get stronger and build an army.

I say pseudo-GameLit, because it's one of those where the game elements are relatively light, mostly encompassing a few stat upgrades as he acquires nanites, and the occasional use of an in-head mini-map. A nice change from fantasy as well, which I suspect is still the default. One other way this feels different is the sheer brutality of the environment. While, granted, this does sometimes feel a little farcical (I'm thinking of the exploding rabbits here), none of the victories are easy, and it's nice to see some consequences for getting involved in fights.

The one weakness of the book is that it is evidently setting up a series, and so has a lot of plotlines to build into it. That means we've got aspects of colony building, personal empowerment, the dragon history and a certain amount of political processing of the literally stratified society. The very end of the book also adds in possibly an entirely new aspect, which could change the basic premise of the series. Those multiple streams mean that not all of them get quite as much development as you might like, and it struggles a bit to find a book-length narrative arc.

Still, nice intro to a series, and could lead to some epic fights later on, as Jared assembles his animal-bonded squadron.

Score 4