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Infusion by Clint Smith

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Infusion is a valiant first effort at fiction writing by technical author Clint Smith, but it falls short of its promise. The plot concept is sound, and makes interesting parallels with the conflicts between economics and ecology, but the actual story-telling could use a bit more work, or at least a better editor. The first half of the book left me cringing quite often, but the pace and the writing pick up in the last third of the book.

Essentially, the novel is an examination of the effects of unethical mining practices on local ecology. In this case, it is alien pirates mining dattan in Earth’s atmosphere, causing a storm that makes the recent tsunami in Southeast Asia look like a wave pool. The aliens (Kimoph and Zeron) need the dattan to restore the atmospheres of their planets, which were destroyed in their civil war. Although Earth is a “preserve” because it contains life, one mining corporation has decided that the wealth of dattan on Earth will be better served on Kimoph and Zeron, and in their own coffers. The morality tale aspect of the plot smacks the reader in the face nearly as hard as a Star Trek episode at its most preachy-est. While it appeals to my environmentalist tendencies, it becomes tiresome.

One of the main characters in the novel is Kiren, an undercover agent in the alien’s equivalent of the US Department of the Interior. KIEF officers have a bit more teeth than US Forrest Service agents and can back up the laws protecting the Preserve with firepower. Kiren is the token strong female in a cast of male action heroes, but she beats them out in the end, which should make me happy, I suppose.

My main beef is with the writing. The Kimoph and Zeron, for all their alien-ness, have some surprising similarities to humans; North Americans in particular. I suppose in a universe this big, it is possible that the cousin alien races could end up with cultures and technologies similar to those found in North America, but its not likely that they would have similar slang.

“I know some of it is old hat,”—using a northern Zeron slang term—”but it’s worth recapping everything now that we’re together.”–p.75

North American slang is used frequently by the aliens, and one could assume that the reader is being given the English equivalent of their own slang. There is no need for the author to make a point of noting that “old hat” is a “northern Zeron slang term.” In fact, by doing so, it makes this and all of the other uses of slang by the aliens even more ridiculous.

There are other elements of the depictions of the alien societies that are barely-concealed allegories to North American equivalents (subways, corporate culture, martini bars, etc.), which would be fine if this book is billed as a conservationist allegory. Unfortunately, it is trying to pass itself off as a science fiction novel. I fear that in doing so, it will only throw a bit of mud on an already denigrated genre. Smith has potential as a hard science fiction writer, and I hope that he is not too discouraged by this first attempt.

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About Anna Creech

  • What, precisely is meant by technical author? Does he normally write about technical topics? Does he demostrate good science in this book?

    The tendency to anthropomorphize aliens is one of the most common failings in alien scifi. Perhaps we really do know no different. This does not mean however that the author must ‘Americanize’ their society.

    Curse the Zenon! Send the Space Marines after them! How dare they steal our dattan!

  • “Technical author” means that prior to this book, Smith has written technical books, such as those listed above. The “hard science” fiction genre takes technological theory and puts it into a fictional setting.

  • Many authors find it difficult to publish their first novels, allowing time enough for them to reassess the quality. When someone has a track record in another genre (such as technical manuals), the shortened lead time allows release of something half-baked.

    It sounds like this book shares another common fault of first novels: preachiness.

  • Very nice review, Anna. It’s unfortunate that good ideas and premise can often get bogged down in poor writing or poor story telling.

    You’ve provided a definition of “hard” science fiction, which I like, by the way. I’m wondering what your definition of “soft” would be. I’ve also heard the terms sociological sci fi and speculative fiction thrown about, as well as the rare “mystic realism” thrown about. I tend to consider a lot of my fiction to be spec fiction, but I’m curious to hear your take on it.

  • This book review has been selected for Advance.net. You’ll be able to find this and other Blog Critics reviews at such places at Cleveland.com’s Book Reviews column.

  • Hart science fiction and speculative fiction could be kissing cousins, in my dictionary. Soft SF is probably the sociological SF you mention. That’s more my kind of SF, to be honest, and it’s what I was expecting from Infusion based on what the publisher is pushing.

  • I was under the impression that spec fiction was kind of an umbrella term that could relate to anything from the softest sci fi to the hardest Asimov-esque fiction.

    I’m definitely on the very soft socio side. In fact, everything I write tends to morph into a complete genre blend: sociological sci/fi with elements of comedy, suspense, and romance thrown in. It’s really amazing how little control writers have over the stories they create.