Review of “Burn-In” by P.W. Singer and August Cole

I stumbled into this book. I don’t usually read science fiction because that was my favorite genre for more than 10 years when I was young, but what the hell. It was available, so here’s what I think about it.

First, the overview. This is an old story in the SF genre; a cop (FBI in this case) gets a robot partner to evaluate, then all hell breaks loose and they save the city/nation/world from a scheme devised by either anarchists or the wealthy elite. I’m not saying. The central character is the robot but they’re not cute or anything. The character develops realistically, using its deep-learning capability to grasp insight from the behavior of the real central character, Agent Lara Keegan. A human story is introduced through her life, which is falling apart even as Washington DC is assaulted. This is an interesting part of the story because the robot (TAMS) becomes a part of her private life, even though it’s only a robot, Well done.

The second thread of the book is the thriller plot. It’s run of the mill. Not even that big a deal and unlikely to work, even if hugely successful. Pretty much every SF gadgetry you’ve heard about is integrated into the story, which is set in the not-too-distant future. Several unrealistic scenes are set up to take the story forward, which makes Keegan look either stupid or naive, to be an decorated ex-Marine and FBI agent. These kind of inconsistencies are why I don’t read SF anymore, and also avoid international conspiracy novels. I’m not referring to the suspension of disbelief required to enjoy SF, but rather the integration of personal stories (like Keegan’s) into a SF theme.

The authors’ use a lot of footnotes, with a long list of references at the end. This is confusing because, rather than explain the footnoted text, there are references to books, magazine articles, on-line blogs and new stories, reports, etc, all with internet addresses. This might be okay if I’d read the book digitally and could click on the links, but I read a hardback copy. It doesn’t make sense. Instead, I Iooked up some of the high-tech references on a computer. This was annoying.

The handprint of two authors is visible in the two threads. I’m guessing that one author wrote the personal story and the other focused on the action. They are written in different styles, both wordy and ponderous. This is a typical style for first-drafts that I’m familiar with.

This draft was not ready for publication. It is wordy (to say the least), has too many examples of bad grammar to count, and is full of cut-and-paste errors. Sentences that change meaning in the middle are more than annoying. I don’t like to read paragraphs over and over, not in a novel, to guess at their meaning. The authors were either in a hurry or are simply sloppy–I don’t care which.

Overall, I can’t recommend this book because, despite Keegan’s personal problems, it’s not that good a story. If it had been cleaned up, I would recommend it. It’s close enough to the thumbs-down line that the bad punctuation and clumsy writing killed it for me.

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