Rating: 3 out of 5
I’m a huge fan of the SF/horror combo (the Alien franchise, etc.), so I was really looking forward to Mike Duke’s AMALGAM: BOOK ONE: CONTACT. Unfortunately it only somewhat lived up to that anticipation. Our story takes place in 2177 on a mining colony on an exomoon. Maynard Creed is one of a number of miners trying to reach an unidentified vein of high-density metal within the exomoon in hopes of a large payout. When it turns out to be alien technology instead of a resource, and Maynard discovers something unusual within it, everything goes sideways. Soon he and his fellow employees are trying their best to get rid of a rampaging monster that eats everyone in sight. Hopefully he’ll also be able to save his girlfriend, Jenna, who’s on board the nearby station.
I started out seriously not liking Maynard, largely because he referred to his ex-wife taking him to the cleaners in the divorce as her “raping” him. Comparing every trouble to rape is seriously obnoxious. I never ended up liking him, but at least he’s decent apart from that. He’s an interesting character who is a bit blunt and rude, but who stands up and does the right thing under pressure. There’s an excellent scene in which he very nearly loses his mind, which is great because he isn’t a trained soldier and shouldn’t be calm about dealing with an alien attack.
Jenna at one point describes Savannah, a “Sex-Synth” who comes to her clinic (Jenna is a doctor), as being “voluptuous” and having hair that “tickled at the top of her breasts.” It’s very much a men-writing-women moment, because women rarely view each other this way. Especially when we’re talking about a doctor doing the observing, and it’s someone she already seems familiar with.
Unfortunately there are too many red herrings (in terms of resources that are baldly described up front and then ignored later), and too many plot holes (mostly involving the creature’s intelligence and ability to absorb people’s memories and knowledge). If you want a few details, check the spoiler section at the bottom of this review.
The action elements are the best parts of this book. There’s some fun combat, lots of weaponry, interesting actions on the alien’s part, and so on. The combat is fun and intense, interspersed with tense periods of sweat-filled quiet as characters try to avoid or outwit the alien rather than just outrunning it. I don’t think I’ll read the rest of the series, but I can see that decision depending heavily on the reader’s individual preferences.
Content note: painful death and dismemberment.
SPOILER WARNING: Savannah is a total red herring. I mean it’s kind of nice that something unexpected happens, but it also feels a bit off when we get a couple of pages about how she was built on a Combat Synth chassis and can access those abilities when humans are threatened, then that doesn’t pay off properly. That isn’t the only red herring–there are multiple other resources (drones, battle armor) that are set up and then casually discarded without any payoff. It would be nice if they’d at least started to be useful before taking a left turn, rather than simply going unused, although at least I can hope they’ll be used in later books. In addition, the alien creature seems to absorb knowledge from the people it consumes–it uses security codes from multiple victims. However, when it consumes several people who are working to bait it into a trap, it never picks up on the trap. Also, even though the marines know it has these codes, it never occurs to them that it might actually use them when trying to survive their trap. Also also, when the good guys send an SOS for evac, they totally fail to mention that the alien is in any way intelligent or in possession of colonists’ memories. I’ll avoid details about the ending except to say that once again they completely fail to anticipate the creature’s intelligence/access to memories in what they’re anticipating. END SPOILERS