I’ll just step right out here and admit for all the world that Sci-fi is not my typical genre. I always said I like to read a bit of everything, but I didn’t read any Douglas Adams until this year, and if someone recommended a novel that was set in the future, I pretended I had had my library card revoked. Until sj.
sj has introduced me to so much sci-fi I never thought I would like. The Dresden Files, Ready Player One, the Firefly television series – I am still not ready to talk about that one. It was only 14 episodes long but affected me very deeply. All I can say right now is that I would spend the rest of my life with a Malcolm Reynolds action figure under my pillow. Ahem. Excuse me a moment. I seem to have something in my eye…
Anyway, if sj offers it, I tend to read it. Eventually. Enter Zenn Scarlett by Christian Schoon. She had received this book along with a few others free as an ARC and asked if I’d be interested in one of them. She even let me choose because that’s the kind of friend she is. I picked the one about a vet on Mars. A vet! On Mars! Weird creatures, a whole new world to learn about. What’s not to like, right? Turns out, quite a bit, actually.
I’ll start with the good parts. The world-building was solid. Granted, I have not read a ton in this genre, but the setting was unique enough to please me. The author does a great job with the science. It’s all plausible. Underneath it all, the plot line was decent, though a bit predictable, with a bit of a mystery thrown in. I could relate to the protagonist at least a little – a young woman trying to establish herself in a difficult career. There were enough setbacks to make her realistic with enough successes that I didn’t write her off as hopeless. I could root for her. Sort of.
That’s just it. I re-read what I have written so far. I know. This review is wishy-washy. So was the book. Here’s the real truth. I didn’t care one way or the other about either animal or character. I was never sure if Hamish, a giant talking bug and the one creature I actually liked, was supposed to be comic relief. I never laughed. I did want to hug his little thorax a time or two, but as a character he just wasn’t developed enough. There’s a scene at the end that, with a few rewrites, could bring me to my feet cheering. But not as it is currently written.
The only strong feeling this novel evoked was antipathy revolving around one creature. Katie the little rat-creature-thing that Zenn kept as a pet gave me the ever-loving creeps. She was written to be cute and cuddly and maybe with her own line of plush if a movie gets made and all. But I skimmed the scenes she was in. First of all, her name was Katie. I adore that name, but everyone else is Fane or Mai or Otha, so the name “Katie” jangled. And then there was the signing. Like, sign language. I was bothered by that so much. Rikkasets are supposed to have intelligence comparable to chimpanzees, but she apparently understood concepts like “soon” and “later.” I questioned the ethics of keeping her as a pet if she had such mental capacity.
The plot was there, but it was muddied. Unnecessary bits need to be cut to help the pacing, which is painfully slow at times. The author tries to avoid info dumps by explaining everything in dialog but still ends up telling, not showing. I read that the author was a former script writer, so his over-reliance on dialog makes total sense. But knowing that doesn’t make me like the book more.
My overall impression is that this book could have done with another round of edits. Which author compared novels to sculpture? Stephen King? Anyway, the comparison is spot on. The elements in Zenn are there. Knock off a bit more marble here and there and give it a thorough polish. Zenn Scarlett could be perhaps not a masterpiece, but a solid work to be proud of. As it is, I give it three stars out of five. The solid writing and world-building are what rescues it in the end.
Zenn Scarlett will be out April 30 in US/Canada/ebook, everywhere else May 2. For ordering information, please visit the Strange Chemistry page.