Equations of Life

Equations of Life
By Simon Morden
Published on April 1, 2011
Published by Orbit
Source: Netgalley

Summary from Goodreads:

Samuil Petrovitch is a survivor.

He survived the nuclear fallout in St. Petersburg and hid in the London Metrozone - the last city in England. He's lived this long because he's a man of rules and logic.

For example, getting involved = a bad idea.

But when he stumbles into a kidnapping in progress, he acts without even thinking. Before he can stop himself, he's saved the daughter of the most dangerous man in London.

And clearly saving the girl = getting involved.

Now, the equation of Petrovitch's life is looking increasingly complex.

Russian mobsters + Yakuza + something called the New Machine Jihad = one dead Petrovitch.

But Petrovitch has a plan - he always has a plan - he's just not sure it's a good one.

My thoughts...

The action in Equations of Life is virtually non-stop, from the moment when Sam Petrovitch makes the split-second decision to save Sonja Oshicora from being kidnapped by a rival mob, until the very end, where every character has been battered and bruised and significantly worse for wear.  I could easily see this be made into an action movie, with some pretty awesome special effects: there are explosions, sentient machinery, train wrecks, car chases, gun fights, and more.  

Sam is an interesting choice for an action hero -- in some ways, he reminds me of Matt Farrell from Live Free or Die Hard.  Sam's a tech and physics genius with a bum heart; he's not the kind of guy you'd expect to go running for his life through an increasingly dangerous city just to prove a point.  He's a loner whose sole friend seems to be a fellow PhD student named Pif, who focuses on her work with an incredibly strong single-mindedness.  He's foul-mouthed and sarcastic and is, of course, harboring some pretty dark secrets.  It's perhaps a bit easier to connect with Sam than your traditional lead in an action story because, despite the dark past, he's much more of an every-man, the kind of nerdy kid you pass in the halls at school and don't give much of a second thought to.

While reading this book, I felt like I was dumped straight away into a universe that already existed, and I had to scramble to play catch-up so that I would have any idea what was going on.  Even though Equations of Life is the first in a trilogy, the universe is already pre-formed: a post-apocalyptic world, where the US has isolated itself with a form of far-right/religious government, Japan has fallen into the sea, and countries that weren't destroyed by war are in shambles.   The reader is given little information on this new world and is expected just to wade through, unaided.  I enjoy books which world-build in subtle ways, not forcing information on readers in giant exposition dumps, but this was almost a bit too much.  I could have done with just a few sentences from Sam or any of the supporting characters, musing on what had caused these dramatic catastrophes, to support the the well-thought out aftermath.  I found out after reading that the author has a collection of short stories set in this Metrozone universe that function somewhat as a prequel -- had I known they existed, I might have read them first, but I muddled through well enough on my own.

I thought this book was interesting but perhaps overly convoluted -- much like a traditional action movie, I often had no idea how the characters were getting from one point to another, or who, exactly, was after them this time.  I found that it didn't matter that much, either, once I decided to just let go of it.  Sam is supported by a varied cast of characters, including an incredibly tall gun-toting nun, a police detective with his own agenda, and various factions of the Japanese yakuza and Russian mob (or what's left of it).  There's a lot of Russian phrases in the book which is never defined (unless the actual print copy includes a glossary; my e-ARC didn't, at least), which can be a little annoying, but also fun to play the "guess what it means" game.  I'd be interested in checking out the other books in the trilogy, although I would probably backtrack and read the prequels, first.

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