Embedded by Dan Abnett
(published by Angry Robot, PB, 2012 *OUT NOW* £7.99)
This is the author’s second novel for indie genre publisher Angry Robot, following on from the lauded alternate history swashbuckler, Triumff.
Embedded is more akin to Abnett’s staple output of future war hijinks produced for Games Workshop’s publishing arm, the Black Library (excellent Abnett starting place for BL newbies: Horus Rising). But Embedded is perhaps Abnett’s most ambitious and innovative novel to date. And, perhaps, his best. With Embedded, we are seeing an author at his most confident and able.
The setting is the Cold War of the far future, where an uneasy peace exists between the two intergalactic superpowers of the U.S (United Status) and the Bloc. Enter Lex Falk, a veteran investigative journalist (complete with aches, pains & grumbles) who is on a seemingly dull and routine assignment to the backwater colony planet Eighty-Six. Events soon transpire that there is something more troubling at work that mere agricultural development. Conflict has erupted between the U.S. and the Bloc, and our man Falk manages to wangle his way to the frontline to get the scoop – but in the mind of a soldier.
This central conceit is so well executed that from your initial ‘What the -‘ you are transported to the frontline of this hidden war on Eighty-Six, through the mind’s eye of Private Nestor Bloom / Lex Falk. Abnett teases you along a twisting, turning SF tale of broken, merging identities, outdoing similar antics as created by the legendary Philip K. Dick. Except Dick never did it as well as this. When the Nestor Bloom segment of the book arrives, about a third of the way in, Abnett drip-feeds the sensory awareness of his protagonist(s) through to the reader in such a convincingly unsettling manner that you cannot help but share in their paranoia and confusion. The threat of violence feels near and real.
Abnett is on high concept ground here and marches his narrative along with confident skill that his fans will already be accustomed to; once this author has you gripped, he doesn’t let go. All the requisite boxes are ticked (SF action plot, heavy duty future tech, vibrant characters, thrills n’ twists, unique lingo; see the patented swearing – genius!) – and then more are invented as the plot hurtles along. Just as you are beginning to feel that you have a handle on what is actually going on, another narrative curveball throws things into the next thrilling sequence of plot development. And what an ending.
Dan Abnett has really outdone his own impressive standards, in what is possibly one of the finest action SF novels of this or any other century.
Andy Jamieson, Editor