“Cyborgs were machines. Robots […]. Tools for human use. They might have started as flawed or damaged humans, but science and technology changed them. Changed them and stole their memories – along with their humanity – to make them into something the government could use to fight its battles, an almost indestructible army that could explore dangerous new worlds or force militant order on an overgrown population chafing for freedom. Most of all, cyborgs were expendable, in human eyes at least.“
Thus begins this new novella by Eve Langlais. Even though half-machines, cyborgs still have fully human bodies packed with muscle and strength, in my imagination making them look like the younger version of The Expendables in a “Terminator meets Blade Runner and they befriend Wolverine” reality. A very heady cocktail indeed. However the cyborg’s mind is controlled exclusively by the high command which of course reminded me somewhat of the infamous Borg bullying the galaxy with the uncanny “Resistance is futile” opening line and the deliciously devious Borg Queen at the helm. But let’s get back to the story. The book begins when the military decides to shut down the cyborg programme by disposing the condemned units into the outer space. However, several drones regain scraps of consciousness and in the last minute before going on a spacewalk they rebel, take over the ship and embark on a journey to find their lost identity.
C791 is probably the first book which touches on more moral questions, about the future of human civilisation and the ethics behind certain scientific discoveries. Here specifically – the cyborgs, an amalgam of a human and a machine. Consequently the story contains relatively little mirth and cheerfulness in comparison to Author’s other stories (e.g. Alien Mate, Alien Abduction). Also the characters are more serious and brooding: Chloe, a scarred and intimidated lab technician, working as one of the few females on a secret military base and Joe, a cyborg trying to find his humanity and the answer to the eluding question: “Why me? What for? How?” As much as I’ve enjoyed Joe’s characters and his internal struggle I was more than a bit disappointed with his female counterpart, Chloe. She’s shy, uninspiring, a typical “damsel in distress” type of heroine waiting to be saved. And I’m not criticising her willingness to leave her current life and escape aboard a cyborg ship with a virile cyborg to keep her company. After all, her existence at the base was a nightmare, with overbearing and leery peers at every corner, no friends and a hovel for a flat. In case of Chloe, however, it’s her wimpy approach and a total lack of gumption which makes it hard for me to empathise with her. Even her attempts at getting her act together later in the book, though brave and admirable, don’t change the fact that at her heart she’s still that frightened, constantly shushed human stranded on some god forsaken military base. And of course not every heroine has to be Annwyl the Bloody or Beth Randall, but a bit of a rebellious streak would be very much welcomed.
The narrative is typical for Langlais’ novellas: fast-paced, enjoyable and well-told captivating the reader from the very first paragraph. The sexually charged scenes are graphical and wonderfully erotic in the same time, perfectly synchronising with a crisp pace of the storyline. And the twist at the end… I believe that the Author’s imagination and fabulous storytelling skills say a lot about her pleasure of writing and creating those far, far-away lands. And I believe that one of the most attractive features (which I hold very dear) is her ability to leave a wonderfully rich and multi-layered world behind and move on to another. She’s not hell-bound on artificially prolonging the reading experience and turning it into a SFR version of Eastenders. And even though sometimes one wishes she could explore this aspect of the story, or follow-up on that character, or come-up with a more sophisticated ending, in general the story finishes when it’s supposed to, i.e. when the Reader is still enthralled and left with that all-to-knowing smile of total bliss and satisfaction. This way she avoided the pitfall which her other colleagues like Christine Feehan (Dark Carpathians) or Evangeline Anderson (Brides of the Kindred) fell right into – repeating themselves throughout a 300 page book multiplied by several instalments, hence losing the plot and boring the Reader. And there is nothing more irritating than skimming through the book hoping to skip the bits you’ve already read a couple of times, in the end huffing in exasperation, throwing the said book at an unsuspecting pet and storming off to the fridge to calm your nerves with a bit of a chocolate treat.
In summary (and regardless of my certain vehemence towards poor Chloe) I can honestly say that I have enjoyed this story and spent yet another pleasant evening. I’m looking forward to Book 2 in the series, F814 and Book 3 B727, the latter coming out in 2013.