World of Fire is the first in a new series of novels by the prolific James Lovegrove, and is a sort of combination of Quantum Leap and James Bond starring Bruce Campbell. A great concept for a series, very well executed right out of the gate. If you like your heroes smarmy, your villains inscrutable, and your action crunchy, the new Dev Harmer Missions are for you.
Dev Harmer, reluctant agent of Interstellar Security Solutions, wakes up in a newly cloned host body on the planet Alighieri, ready for action.
It’s an infernal world, so close to its sun that it surface is regularly baked to 1,000°C, hot enough to turn rock to lava. But deep underground there are networks of tunnels connecting colonies of miners who dig for the precious helium-3 regolith deposits in Alighieri’s crust.
Polis+, the AI race who are humankind’s great galactic rivals, want to claim the fiery planet’s mineral wealth for their own. All that stands between them and this goal is Dev. But as well as Polis+’s agents, there are giant moleworms to contend with, and a spate of mysterious earthquakes, and the perils of the surface where a man can be burned to cinders if he gets caught unprotected on the day side…
So this is an interesting concept. Given interstellar distances, and the fact that even with interplanetary travel, things in space are VERY far apart, this seems like a pretty solid way to operate some special forces. Find a way to transmit their minds as data, and grow a handy vat body, ideally built for the environment and download them on in. As ways to handle the science of the future, this scans pretty well. It builds the sense of isolation of these border worlds, and really gives you a sense, without ever leaving the planet, of just how big this universe is. I’m always a fan of anything which can communicate by showing instead of telling, and there were a lot of subtle touches like that which helped world build without having to go anywhere outside the current story. I also get the sense that the series is going to start to take a more serious turn as it develops. This was more an action story than any serious high-concept world building, but the groundwork is there for things to get very real.
I’ve also got to hand it to Lovegrove for baking his series potential right into the concept for the books. Every book a new mission, a new world. Nothing gets stale by being in the same place, and you don’t have to worry about a long continuity in one setting to get screwed up by the ongoing antics of your go-for-broke hero. I’ve always thought it was a solid move for television shows of this stripe like Quantum Leap and Sliders. Don’t like where you ended up story-wise? No worries, next week you’re somewhere totally new. It keeps the books from feeling samey (which is always a flaw of the James Bond series, and others of their ilk) and really allows the creative juices to flow.
Dev Harmer is a great protagonist as well. When he’s going to be in a new body every mission, great pains need to be taken to make sure he has a very distinct personality, and he has it in spades. He’s also one of my favourite kinds of protagonist: He’s smarmy and a smart mouth, he irritates people around him probably as much as a defence mechanism as anything else, but when the shit hits the fan, he is very serious, and very effective. I find characters like Jason Bourne get boring very quickly because they are just always ‘on’. You never find him mouthing off to somebody, or cracking an inopportune joke, he just goes and goes and goes. That can be great to watch, and even to read, but I wouldn’t want to do it through a ten book series. Harmer keeps it light when he can, and often when he shouldn’t, but can still get down to business when business is called for. The very sharp wit of Bruce Campbell, the affected nonchalance of Han Solo, and the effectiveness of Jason Bourne rolled into…whichever body he happens to have.
My only real gripe from the whole of World of Fire is that Lovegrove seems like he’s sort of gone ahead and spoiled the season finale. You see, it’s mentioned in passing a few times that Harmer’s arrangement with Interstellar Security Solutions is one where he is trying to basically earn his way out. He gets scored on his missions based on how well they are accomplished, and how little collateral damage there happens to be. He needs a certain magical number of ‘points’ to be accrued before he gets to get shunted back into his original body and sent on his way. It’s the ‘hoping the next leap may be the leap home’ mechanic of the story, and it did sort of need to be there to provide him the impetus to keep putting himself in life threatening danger over and over, but it ended up being sold a little too hard.
It’s one debut novel in and I already know what’s going on. He’s playing an arcade game, and it’s built to keep him pumping quarters. Don’t get me wrong, I like the idea that he’s going to find out that I.S.S. has basically made it so he’ll never get his freedom. We might even get a book where he decides to go rogue and get to the bottom of what they’re doing, but this was the one larger worldbuilding element that wasn’t subtle, and I can’t help but feel like it was just spoilers instead of deliberate storytelling. Of course, not all things which look like tropes and smell like tropes happen to turn out to be tropes, but, in honour of the next title already announced, World of Water, I won’t hold my breath.
I’ve ended up reading a pretty wide range of James Lovegrove’s books over the years, and while I’ve felt a little let down by the promise of the Pantheon series, this new debut series has rekindled my hope. You know when you start casting the movie in your head, that a book has gotten the job done, and kudos to Lovegrove for doing it again.
Dan was given an Advanced Review Copy of this novel from Solaris via NetGalley