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Release Review: All the King's Men: Alex Powell

All the King's Men
Alex Powell

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Released July 27, 2016
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 | Less Than Three Press | Smashwords

Fox is a mindnet hacker, and works for the mysterious man known only as King. He spends his time uncovering dangerous secrets and releasing them to the public.

But those who cause trouble are bound to attract it, and despite their precautions King is taken prisoner by an unknown government. And if Fox is going to save him, he's going to need help—help that comes from the very last place he expected to find it.

First things first: Alex Powell’s All the King’s Men is a science fiction novel that happens to have a gay romance as a background subplot. If you try to squeeze this into some mold of being an M/M romance first, you will be disappointed. But if you are a fan of well-composed science fiction, and you treat the subplot as a bonus element, I believe you will enjoy the story as much as I did.

At some point in the future, the Cerebrum is a virtual reality network that functions much like the Internet does today, but instead of sitting at a computer screen, users are completely immersed within the virtual reality to the point where they leave their physical bodies behind and experience only the sensory input they receive from within while logged in. While in the Cerebrum, Fox is a mindnet hacker who works with a small group of others under the supervision of a man known as the King. Their objective is to discover secrets and release them to the public. They take precautions to maintain their anonymity and avoid being caught because their activities attract dangerous enemies. When the King is captured by an unknown government, Fox and the others must somehow rescue him in order to avoid all their lives being destroyed. But sometimes help comes from the least expected source. And sometimes attraction also comes from the same unlikely place.

Let’s start with the science fiction aspect of the novel first since the romantic part is really only a small portion of the overall plot. First and foremost, the author builds a fascinating world for this story. The idea of a fully immersive virtual reality has always been of interest to me, so because the author does so well crafting one, it didn’t take long for me to be pulled into this world. There are a lot of parallels between the Cerebrum and our experience of the Internet, so much of the terminology is the same. As a result, if excessive techno-babble in sci-fi bothers you, it shouldn’t be a problem here. Almost the entire story takes place within the Cerebrum. Not unlike they do on the Internet, users of the Cerebrum can essentially develop whatever persona they wish including their appearance and the private areas they inhabit. The users also have abilities, though it is never made completely clear how these are determined—one of the many reasons I would have loved to see another hundred pages or so of novel length in order to allow the author to flesh out the world more fully—but like everything else in a virtual reality, it depends on the users’ minds.

This fact also makes it unsurprising that the primary story line involves the ability for users of the Cerebrum to access and relive their real-life memories, a component that becomes important as the story develops. Before being captured, the King makes use of a skill no one knew was possible in order to prevent his memories from falling into the hands of his captors. This essentially establishes a treasure hunt of sorts as one of the main tasks for Fox and the others. They must complete this while avoiding their own capture by agents of the unknown government, agents who are referred to only by a number instead of a name.

The perspective of the story alternates between Fox and one of these agents, a man called Seven. These agents are essentially “programmed” to be unfeeling in following the orders of their masters and to be indistinguishable from one another, but right from the start, his interactions with Fox begin to open his eyes to the possibility that he’s not just a program, he’s a human who unlike the “real” people in the Cerebrum, is totally unaware of his existence in the real world. While both characters are interesting in my opinion, Seven’s progression is one of my favorite parts of the book. There is never a problem with the perspective throughout the novel: the fact that Fox knows all about his real life while Seven doesn’t have a clue about his is more than enough to keep their internal monologues distinct.

As far as the romantic aspect, it is basically nonexistent until the second half of the book. When things finally start to happen, I understand why the initial interactions take place, and I can understand Seven’s attraction to Fox—Fox is the impetus for Seven’s personal discovery of himself. Because of this, I enjoyed the romance from Seven’s point of view. On the other hand, I never really understand the attraction from the other direction. Granted, the entire romance consists of only ten or fifteen percent of the page time in the novel, and since this isn’t a long novel, that doesn’t make for much chance to develop the romance. As a result, I didn’t see the romantic plot as advancing Fox’s character at all. So just like with the world-building comment earlier, I would have liked to see the book be longer in order for the romantic story to be developed better.

I have read a good deal of science fiction in my day, and one thing that all of the good ones have in common is the fact that they make some sort of social commentary. All the King’s Men does contain some hints of this, but in the end, the message seems a bit muddled to me. Perhaps again a longer novel would have given the author more time to accomplish this. That being said, the world-building and story are good enough already to make the book something I can recommend. The romance, while slim in development, is just a little bonus.

The author generously provided me a complimentary copy of All the King's Men in exchange for this fair and honest review.
Alex Powell

Alex Powell is an avid writer and reader of sci-fi and fantasy but on occasion branches into other genres to keep things interesting. Alex is a genderqueer writer from the wilds of northern Canada who loves exploring other peoples and cultures. Alex is a recent graduate of the University of Northern British Columbia with a BA in English, and as a result has an unhealthy obsession with Victorian Gothic literature. Alex has been writing fro an early age but is happy to keep learning to improve on their writing skills. Feedback and comments as well as any questions are appreciated!

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