Thursday, April 14, 2011

KiTE, a Review

In the distant future, near the end of the 22nd century, Earth has not changed all that much.  People are still going about life as normal, though technology is advanced enough that space travel isn't unheard of.  Mason Dash, a pilot on the cleaning ship Kite, spends his working shifts orbiting the planet and eradicating litter, using KiTE's high-powered lasers and webbing.  Bored and ready to retire, Dash passes time at work by sleeping in his underwear on a sofa.  When he's home, he spends most of his time toying around with his AI personality Sheila that lives in the computer.  But Dash, ever the trickster, begins to suspect not all is right in his normal life.  Maybe the "abandoned" International Space Station II isn't quite so abandoned after all.  Maybe Janet, his wife, has grown suspicious of his relationship with Sheila.  Maybe he's gone off the deep end and is seeing things out in space.

Such is the setup for KiTE, by Bill Shears.  Well, that's my set-up.  The official blurb, taken from INFINITYbound's website, goes like this.
KiTE, by Bill Shears, is a science fiction novel set in Earth orbit. Mason Dash, operator of Kite, the flagship of Earth Orbit Maintenance Department’s debris sweeper fleet, suspects spacejackers on an abandoned space station may be using it as a platform for a terrorist attack on Earth targets. Sheila, his beautiful virtual companion, has been “enhanced” with an experimental free will module. Inside the computer system of Kite a digital uprising is under way. Sheila goes off on her own adventure and finds she’s forced to split her focus between Dash’s situation in the “real world” and an ambitious virtual tyrant who has also taken a fancy to her, and who wants to expand his empire beyond Kite. Meanwhile Dash finds the spacejackers are not what he suspected, maybe worse. And it’s just then that humankind’s first unearthly visitor appears in Earth orbit, who is none too pleased. Earth’s fate hangs in the balance.
Blurbs are always a fickle thing for me.  Sometimes I feel like they overdo it, throwing out spoilery when there shouldn't be any.  That's how I feel about this blurb and the one on the back of the book.  Nevertheless, that's neither here nor there.  This is not a review of a book's blurb, but a book review, and the question is whether or not I enjoyed Shears' KiTE?

Such a difficult question, honestly.  At times, yes, I thought it was fun, entertaining, interesting, and original.  There were some brilliant bits of character philosophy (I'm looking at you, HE_RA), some amazing sci-fi originality (how spaceships are launched, for example), and some clever dialogue.  And yet, I had a few issues through my read, too.  For one, there were a few too many grammatical/formatting errors.  Normally, I don't pay attention to this kind of stuff, but there were enough instances that it jarred me the wrong way and seemed to impede the story.  Another problem was the odd idioms Dash would use.  I find it hard to believe that a simple pilot would be quoting Shakespeare or old television shows, considering the time setting.  This, too, seemed to slow my progress with the story.

Still, at the root of the matter, KiTE told an entertaining (and at times engrossing) story.  Dash was passably likable, a sort of Everyman that I could relate to.  He had a sense of humor that at times was grating, but nevertheless funny.  Things seemed well and above his head and beyond his understanding, and his responses were how I could see myself acting sometimes. 

Unfortunately, KiTE is not just Dash's story.  One entire plot thread that I didn't care too much about was the AI.  Sheila was a great character, and her evolution was fun to watch.  HE_RA, on the other hand, along with the entire setting of Kite's mainframe, were boring and irritating.  I found myself dreading these scenes, not really interested in the characters or their plight.  When it was suggested that the AI were evolving, literally from some sort of artificial DNA-type thing, I perked up, but still I wasn't really invested in this.  I would have rather had more "personal" scenes, not "artificial," if that makes sense.

And the thing that I really enjoyed and hated at the same time was the narrative mode used.  Third-person omniscient tends to stimulate this reaction from me.  I prefer limited (or first person, even) to the 3-p-o mode, usually, and KiTE was no different.  It's hard on me, as a reader, to keep suspense up when the POVs are constantly shifting, and nothing is withheld.  It's confusing when there are many characters in a scene and the POVs shift so much, and yet it's also fun to read something in this mode every once in a while. 

So really, the question remains.  Did I enjoy KiTE?  Somewhat, both yes and no.  Would I recommend KiTE as a read?  That would depend on the reader, honestly.  I think sci-fi fans would enjoy it, and this is definitely a "hard" sci-fi novel.  I tend to go "soft" when I read sci-fi, so that could be part of my problem.  I'd also recommend it to someone looking for a short, not-too-serious sci-fi book, or someone interested in computers and AI.

*I received KiTE as from the author/agent/publisher for free, in exchange for my honest review.  No moneys were transferred in the agreement, nor were any baked goods.

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