Embedded presents something different in the Sci-Fi genre. Technology is not just introduced, it evolves alongside the narrative.
Initially, Embedded had me worried. Abnett has a reputation for character and world building, one keenly deserved. So when presented with an almost mystifyingly blunt information dump on the protagonist within the book’s opening chapter, it felt painfully out of character.
It is important then, that while out of character for Abnett, for Lex Falk, “acclaimed correspondent with several agency awards and a reputation for hard facts and penetrating coverage”, this felt entirely correct. Falk is a man with a reputation and he knows it, casually expecting another Pulitzer to follow in the wake of his latest report. With a dozen worlds behind him, and as many years to go with it, Falk arrives on the colony of Eighty-Six world-weary and ready for the easy write-up it promises to be.
Falk’s character and situation are simple, a combination that appears in other works so often that when it is initially presented it can almost be a turn-off, to have something so clearly laid out before you.
It is to Abnett’s credit than that within the first few chapters, Falk, along with those around him, quickly become more than their initial appearances demonstrate. Falk is aware of the stereotype he appears to be, and his own acknowledgement of this grants a welcome mix of levity and introspection into the ensuing tale. Abnett knows Falk, subverting your expectations for a character like his, and playing with situations to drop him in to keep it fresh.
Unlike so much sci-fi where revelatory technology acts merely as a plot device to kick off the story, Abnett continues to use the technology up to the final pages. Clever ideas feature throughout, all keeping the world firmly its own.
The story itself is a similarly classic set up. Flown down to get the story on an apparent military engagement on Eighty-Six, a run around from military command and an explosion that is far more suspect than is being let on, there is a greater story in the works that Falk intends to get to the bottom of. A traditional set-up to be sure, but Abnett excels in the telling. The world of Eighty-Six, and the greater universe around, is a thoroughly described and highly believable one, its issues and conflicts an authentic extrapolation of modern, real-world conflicts and interests, heightened through a science fiction lens.
Embedded is journalistic thriller mixed with military science-fiction, a genre Abnett is so very well versed in. To get the full story on Eighty-Six, Falk is “embedded” into the mind of an active combat trooper, seeing through his eyes to find out what command withholds. And, unlike so much sci-fi where the revelatory technology acts merely as a plot device to kick off the story’s events, the effects of “embedding” are never forgotten, and Abnett continues to find inventive ways to use the technology all the way up to the book’s final pages. A dozen other clever ideas feature throughout the novel – corporate sponsored expletives through “Ling Patches” are especially notable – all keeping the world firmly its own.
The scenes inside the unit take up the majority of the novel, and both scenes of planning and action are consistently punchy and exciting, developing a fantastic level of tension in every scene as the mortality of the characters constantly feels uncertain.
No matter my quibbles with Embedded, it is important to note, I finished the book in an afternoon. Once the story kicks into gear, with technology, conspiracy and well-thought-out action and character, Embedded kept me reading every page for one enjoyable afternoon, and for that, I must give it credit.