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Book Review: Medusa Uploaded, by Emily Devenport

A homicidal protagonist in a YA novel pretending to be adult SF.


Medusa Uploaded

Tor Books, 2018, 317 pages



My name is Oichi Angelis, and I am a worm. They see me every day. They consider me harmless. And that's the trick, isn't it?

A generation starship can hide many secrets. When an Executive clan suspects Oichi of insurgency and discreetly shoves her out an airlock, one of those secrets finds and rescues her. Officially dead, Oichi begins to rebalance power one assassination at a time and uncovers the shocking truth behind the generation starship and the Executive clans.




Generation ship stories seem to be having a moment in SF, but they're a classic trope and I haven't grown tired of them, and Medusa Uploaded looked pretty cool with that Gigeresque cover.

The basic story is fairly typical: a generation ship (two, actually) set off from the homeworld so long ago that no one knows the details, and over time an Executive class has risen to power, living lives of privilege and plenty while ruling over the oppressed "worms" who do all the work.

The main character, Oichi Angelis, is a worm who was thrown out an airlock for some trivial offense. Instead of dying, she was rescued by a self-aware powered exoskeleton called Medusa. It turns out the Olympia has a bunch of these things hiding away in storage, waiting to be activated by a select few individuals like Oichi.

The author does a credible job of explaining where these mech-suits came from, why they've been undiscovered until now, and how Oichi got one is one of the major twists in the story. The tech is cool and the worldbuilding is detailed and intricate. The plot heads in interesting directions, and this book (only part one of the story, naturally) ends with several big reveals and game-changers.

Despite all the things that should have had me really enjoying it, I found Medusa Uploaded annoying in a number of ways.

First, this is supposedly an adult novel. The author takes her time developing the setting and the plot, making it a "heavier" than most YA novels. And it gets dark in ways that few YA novels will. But the "voice" is just unrelentingly YA, notwithstanding all the abuse, rape, and murder. Oichi talks, complains, and wisecracks like a teenage girl. She uses contemporary idioms and pop culture references constantly. When she and her friends (and Medusa) start digging into old media libraries, they wind up talking about Inception, Kwaidan, and Akira Kurosawa's Dreams, making me think that the author just wanted to shout out to her favorite films. Oichi is a homicidal little vengeance-pixie, but one who felt like every other YA revolutionary. Her moments of reflection and introspection are never deep; when she's not figuring out what the bad guys are up to, she's a snarky teenager.

The villains are Really Really Evil, so that when Oichi casually assassinates men, women, and teenagers right and left, sometimes because they just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, we can be assured that they all deserved it.

Indeed, this entire book read like the author's revenge fantasy. The Executives are almost all cartoonishly evil; the ones who aren't literally rapists and murderers are just assholes who casually abuse their servants and space anyone who twitches in response. There are a lot of people thrown out of airlocks in this book. The Executive clans play petty, vicious, and murderous games with each other too, so occasionally Oichi feels sympathy for some of them, like the boy who was forced to watch his mother get spaced without showing any reaction, or the woman who was gang-raped by older members of her clan when she was 10. But which ones turn out to be redeemable and which ones get kacked anyway seems pretty random, and mostly we just get the sense that all these space aristos are begging to meet Madame Airlock, or in this case, Medusa.

Which brings me to the second point that bugged me: Oichi's friendly sentient super-suit is a deux ex machina. It can tap into the ship's system anywhere, and Oichi is constantly being advised by "ghosts" in the form of other AIs (whose origins, to be fair, are pretty interesting) as she begins creating and disposing of alternate identities, moving throughout the ship and pretending to a servant, an Executive, or whatever serves her purpose for her current scheme. She's planning a revolution to free the worms, which sounds noble enough, except the whole murdering anyone who gets in her way aspect, which as I said, the story tries to make seem less terrible (even though Oichi herself lampshades this by wrestling a bit with her angst over being a "serial killer") by making all her victims super-terrible. Meanwhile, Medusa is such a deux ex machina that even in the few situations where Oichi is threatened and can't immediately call on Medusa for help, there is never any sense that she's really in danger. Whenever she gets thrown out an airlock (which happens repeatedly — apparently the Executives have forgotten how to kill people any other way), Medusa is always there to save the day, even if Oichi spends a few minutes sucking vacuum.

I wanted to like this book more, but while I can root for a revolutionary who delivers come-uppance to bad guys, I did not feel like it quite lived up to its promise as a SF novel. I'm not sure I'm interested enough to read the next book.






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