Full disclosure, no punches pulled, and get your riot gear; this is will be a review of the fourth libation “Assault Ruinland”, a chalice filled with blood. Similar yet slightly differently than Nietzsche before him, CJ Anderson has stared long and hard into the abyss only to find nothing staring back, only the rules and limitations of our physical universe, plus the clear and present danger of a future razed by the hell fires of faith. I welcome you, dear reader, to the demise of the Phoenix and the silent wait thereafter, as nothing rises from the ashes.
The breakneck pace of Assault will upend you from the start, The Fate of Chiron echoing in the bridge of a salvage ship, as the sad empty face of a combat synthetic comes to terms with it’s insignificance within the cosmos. An interesting way to start the fourth sacrificial tome of the Ruinland series, with an emphasis on the human conflict; but want not, as the evolutionary synthetic mind is given a new voice later in the wake of a manhunt for the murderer of Fort Bragg’s golden calf Lexa.
If Enter and Survive Ruinland were Cormac MaCarthy and Bertrand Russel then Assault is Michael Bay and Dan Brown. This is not a negative connotation, but there is a difference in this story arc from anything I’ve previously read from CJ’s electronic pages; the expected climatic journey lags as depth and introspection have been sacrificed for a less lecture driven action adventure. The same god blasting speed and rapid fire linguistics are here but it just seems to have the fast forward button held down, characters are trying to develop but their lights are extinguished just as the switch has been turned on.
We have a revenge thread, an honor thread, and an antagonistic-protagonist hellbound, pardon the pun, on cutting support wires from this book, lines that could lift some of the scenes from the level of Uwe Boll to the Wachowski Brothers. Momentum is building and a light dusting of back stories add layers to the threads as they begin to converge, Tara’s sisterly revenge tale for the execution of her brother and West’s blood boiling quest for military honor, when they are simply cut and closed. These anti-climatic tendencies accentuated the disconnect that I was desperately trying to overcome as I wanted the characters, into whom I’ve invested some time, to tear free from their bloody cocoons.
My best guess as to the cause of the abrupt manner of these razor marks is length, there is just simply a lot more happening in this volume, therefore in maintaining with previous page counts there would have to be sacrifices. At the prospect of a fair trade I would have happily sacrificed some of the metaphorical descriptions that gave allegorical infusions to more than enough scene descriptions; these far reaching similes carried over from my critique of “Fate of Chiron” could be seen as a crutch or filler. If we could have had a more complex narration of the action scenes where Tara and West separately but directly confronted the battle hardened Lauren Vasquez, I believe the story would have been much more rounded instead of skeletal.
But, between all of this there is a ray of light, the combat synthetic Phobos is enacted after years of sleep, to begin hunting. Phobos, derived from the greek embodiment of fear itself, finally offers, ironically enough, a much needed dose of humanity as ethics and morality give way to utopian views of symbiosis between humankind and machines. THIS is the confrontational and gray area philosophy that this series has utilized to catch and keep my attention so far. I was openly smiling as my expectations for this branch of the story were thoroughly flipped on their head.
Furthermore, there are allusions to past and minor characters throughout Assault that will make this short story less accessible to new readers so it is highly recommended that any newcomers catch up before embarking on this god free wild west bullet show. And finally, as expected, there is sufficient closure for Lauren and newcomer Anise but enough wiggle room has been left to continue the series with or without these characters. Only the future will tell where an irradiated humanity and Sophia will take root as the ball is entirely in CJ’s court now.
Once again I give my recommendation for this entire series with a light mist of hoping for more on this last chapter.
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