The Odyssey Effect by Phillip G Cargile

Fulton Books Inc, 2020, 280 p.

Dexter Ruyac is a space war veteran whose family have aged in relation to him due to relativistic time-dilation effects while he was saving Earth in military service many light years distant. Dexter is 37 by his timing, but his wife is now 61, his son 29, and daughter 27. He now has no relationship with them. As a result he is somewhat bitter. He has nevertheless joined the police as, in 2127, “Police officers were still needed in society.” (I note that the time scale here is troublesome. 2127 is only 100 years or so from now, so hardly allows much scope for such a galaxy-spanning scenario to play out.)

The novel starts with Dexter being called to a murder scene, a murder which seems to have been carried out by someone with non-human capabilities. It is not long before Dexter discovers that drone workers called artificials, mindless clones developed to mine planets in the Vesta system for a substance named dycornum, (“used for fusion reactors” – and which may as well be magical given the properties ascribed to it,) have managed to evolve into intelligent beings, superartificials, and have come to Earth to mix with humans. After encountering them, Ruyac feels his protect and serve ethos extends to the artificials. However, an official on the World Court, Earth’s governing body, claims that artificials are not sentient but a danger and believes that in time they will replace humans through interbreeding so is trying to destroy them using “Combative Organic Battle units,” cybernetic hit squads whose members were created to help prosecute Earth’s wars in space.

Ruyac’s service background and the changes on Earth between now and the book’s time are laid out in blizzards of info-dumping in the first few pages but have little to do with the book’s plot. (More such incidental info-dumps outlining the setting’s contemporary social or architectural arrangements are liberally sprinkled through the book. Some involve characters saying to others “as you know” before providing us with the background.) Staples of the detective genre – an inter-departmental jurisdiction wrangle, our detective going rogue – also make their appearance. Through all of this the characters’ inner lives never really blossom; they are there primarily as plot enablers.

My preference is for stories where characters are the driving force. The Odyssey Effect is more concerned with plot, incident, and action scenes. As such, a lot of it is told to us rather than shown. The default position in so many recent SF books of violence being the instrument of plot resolution is unfortunately also to the fore here.

It has to be said that his publisher, Fulton Books Inc, has done Cargile no favours whatsoever. There are no signs here of the text having been copy-edited or even proof-read before publication, (an absolute minimum obligation of a publisher to an accepted manuscript,) which sadly detracts from the reading experience.

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