Book Review: Under the Amoral Bridge, by Gary A. Ballard   Leave a comment

I’ve been slowly working my way through a number of different free e-books offered through Barnes & Noble (nearly all of them are also offered through Amazon and other bookstores as well, I just happen to have a Nook). In my perusal of freebies, it has become clear to me that nearly all of them fall into one of three categories:

1) A free short story designed to get you interested in a longer book for sale.

2) The first novel in a trilogy or series. Again, this is designed to suck you in and get you to buy the rest of the series.

3) A free self-published story or novel. Often, this is something the author would really rather sell, but is not having much success with, so they reprice it as a freebie for some period of time to get reviews and good word-of-mouth going.

Unfortunately, most of what’s in categories 2 and 3 is crap. I wish I could tell you otherwise. The style may be unreadable, the editing may be nonexistent, the plot may lack tension, the characterization may be terrible, the writer may have an inflated sense of his/her own ability, or it may just plain suck for some other reason.

There are occasional brilliant exceptions. Under the Amoral Bridge, by Gary A. Ballard, is one such. Originally published as an online serial in a promotional blog, the novel is set in cyberpunk Los Angeles in the late 2020s. Artemis Bridge takes his name from his job–he’s the guy that knows a guy. He doesn’t touch anything dirty with his own hands, but he’ll hook you up with someone who can do it. As one of the minor characters complains in the book, “*I* have a douchebag detector. Artie’s is broken.”

The story revolves around a bit of information too hot to handle falling into Bridge’s hands . . . and then he can’t get rid of it. Ballard’s cyberpunk future is convincing, being near-term enough that we can imagine how it evolved from present-day conditions. At the same time, it contains cyberpunk staples such as computers you plug directly into your brain, cybernetic body parts, and neo-imperialism at its finest (in which corporate entities have begun to take the place of governments). The characters are engaging–the minor characters sometimes more so than Bridge. Which doesn’t mean he’s unlikable, for all the moral grey area of his job. Rather, Bridge doesn’t think he’s anybody special, but he’s surrounded by these fascinating minor characters who see something in him that he doesn’t see himself.

The book has a reasonably engaging plot and effective pacing, though both could be just a little sharper. More than that, it does exactly what it was designed to do, according to the author: it creates a world and a situation I want to know more about. The line between the Haves and the Have-Nots has continued to grow, creating a sociopolitical disaster that does not ignore economics, racial tensions, or the continued impact of the Internet on everyday life. My understanding is that the writer is trying to sell another series of books set in the same world, and I wish him the greatest success, because I’d sure like to read them.

Under the Amoral Bridge does suffer from some of the sins first novels often do, lacking just a little polish that will come with time. It also has a minor case of needs-a-better-editor, to the tune of the occasional punctuation or grammar thing that will bug the heck out of pedants like me, and which most people will never notice. With that said, although I noticed those errors, they weren’t enough to stop me from reading–and my tolerance is very low. I can’t imagine anyone tuning out on that basis. This is a solid novel I could happily have paid five or six dollars for and felt like it was money well spent. Let’s call it four stars.

Under the Amoral Bridge is the first volume of The Bridge Chronicles. I haven’t read the second two, but I plan to. :-)

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Posted September 2, 2011 by April L'Orange in Uncategorized

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