Echelon, by Josh Conviser

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Few things are more exciting than mounted security camerasI’m about to hate on this book pretty hard, so right now I’m wishing I hadn’t sold it to the local used book shop.  Now I’m open to the “can you be more specific?” critique.  I’m also open to misremembering since it’s been awhile.

Simply put, Echelon is the worst book I read this year.  It’s so bad that I won’t include an Amazon link because I’d prefer no one blame me for buying it.

The plot revolves around Ryan Laing, a kind of government agent brought back from the dead through the use of nanodrones.  He starts to figure out that Echelon, an electronic surveillance system that sees everything, Big Brother style, isn’t being used properly.  A beautiful (of course) hacker joins him, and the two travel around the world looking for the secret to controlling this high tech All Seeing Eye of Sauron.

There are some good, appropriately science fiction-y ideas in the book, but everything is marred by a story that was a bit too predictable (up to the ending-that-leaves-open-the-possibility-of-a-sequel) and dialogue that ranks high on the Unintentional Comedy Scale.  Add to this what I read as a cheesy, romance novel level relationship between the protags, and you’ve got a book I was barely able to finish.

Our main character is also our main problem here.  Laing is too powerful, thanks to his drones, and therefore is never in danger.  He talks like an 80s action hero, and takes a beating better than actors in old Western movies (seriously, how many haymakers did the brawlers shake off in Shane?)

In one scene, Laing ends up on some kind of repurposed oil platform full of guards.  They see him and yell for him to freeze.  He responds with a simple “Not today,” and then starts a-swinging.  The overwhelm him, and start a-beating.  Conviser writes that they basically turn Laing’s genitals into mush, but other than that there’s no sense of consequence.  BLAMP! should be used way more

Most men would scream if just one beefy security guard smacked them in the junk with a nightstick.  Laing is apparently dead from the waist down because, while he mentions that it hurts, having his manhood used as a speed bag doesn’t effect him.

I found the romance between Laing and the chick whose name I can’t remember nor find online to be groan-inducingly bad as well.  I get they have a connection and the tension under which they live will inevitably bring them together, but Conviser’s descriptions of their feelings had me wondering when he’d be using the phrase “quivering loins” in a sentence.

I remember thinking that the plot got in the way of itself a few times.  I can’t elaborate on that too much, but I thought it bore mentioning.  There are double crosses and twists and turns that didn’t resonate, but that might be because I was into skimming-so-I-can-finish-this-damn-thing mode by that time.

Conviser, who seems like an affable fellow based on what I’ve read on his personal website, his Amazon.com postings, and his “Big Idea” entry on John Scalzi’s blog, has a knack for description.  It’s clear he has a specific vision for this universe he’s creating, and that he’s certainly passionate about his work.  I just wish that enthusiasm translated better onto the page.

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