Author Tour Review: Kingdom by Anderson O'Donnell

Here we are at day 2 of the Kingdom blog tour! Yesterday author Anderson O'Donnell explained exactly what biopunk is and what influenced him to write his Tiber City series. Today you get to listen to me ramble about my thoughts of book 1. If you want to learn more about Kingdom, Tiber City or Anderson, you can follow him on Twitter at @TiberCityNoir or visit his website at TiberCityNoir.com.

Kingdom
Anderson O'Donnell

Tiber City Press (2012)
252 pages
Science Fiction / Noir

Purchase a copy from Amazon

In a secret laboratory hidden under the desert, a covert bioengineering project—codename “Exodus”—has discovered the gene responsible for the human soul.

Somewhere in the neon sprawl outside the nation’s collapsing economic core, a group of renegade monks are on the verge of uncovering a secret that has eluded mankind for centuries.
In a glittering tower high above the urban decay, an ascendant U.S. Senator is found dead—an apparent, yet inexplicable, suicide.

And in the streets below, a young man races through an ultra modern metropolis on the verge of a violent revolution....closing in on the terrible truth behind Exodus—and one man’s dark vision for the future of mankind.

Welcome to Tiber City.

Kingdom is a strange book. It felt like a post-apocalyptic world with dystopian tropes, but then it would hit me – no, this is actually kind of how the world is in large metropolitan cities today. I mean, except for the mutants. As far as I know those aren’t actually roaming around in the desert and there aren’t any genetically enhanced politicians out there (if there were, I would hope that be more appealing than the politicians actually in existence). At no point has some nuclear explosion occurred or some horrific series of natural disasters taken apart the social structure of society. No, these slums and drug-addicted rich kids and greedy business men that will do just about anything to win… yeah, those guys are real and I think that made this book more horrific, more effective and more atmospheric than if O’Donnell had set it in an undefined dystopian setting. Instead the story predominantly takes place over a few months in 2015 and therefore freaked me out at the possibility that we’re all going to destroy ourselves in three years.

The book follows two characters – a geneticist named Campbell who started a big secret government project in the 70s that took a sharp turn to crazy under the guidance of his protégée, Morrison, and a young 20-something rich kid named Dylan who has nothing better to do than snort as much cocaine as his nose can handle and have anonymous sex with girls in gross public restrooms. It’s difficult at the beginning to really see how these two disparate men are related or how their paths would cross, but from the beginning it’s framed so the reader knows these two guys are connected somehow.

Anderson really impressed me by making the coke-snorting hedonist character of Dylan somehow sympathetic. I still can’t put my finger on how he managed it, but characters like Dylan normally make me want to beat my head against a wall, not feel sympathy for their situation in life. He’s a depressing figure and definitely not a sympathetic character, but one I was rooting for to find some sort of purpose. Whenever I was on a chapter focused on Campbell, I wanted to get back to Dylan’s story. I applaud the author on that accomplishment alone.

Campbell, on the other hand, didn’t feel as fleshed out and seemed to act more like a plot device to show the other side of the story and to get certain moments “on screen”. After abandoning his genetic project when he found out that his business partner and mentee Morrison had turned their government contract into a mutant-building experimental machine, he ran away as fast as he could and fell in with some strange silent monk people, who take care of the helpless and mostly hang out underground near slums in heavily populated urban areas. Meanwhile they’re also trying to find the human soul through neural research. Because the monks are silent, we never really meet any of them, but Campbell seems to have a handler who is mostly there for background exposition. The secret monks use a symbol of an asterisk in a circle to identify their followers and mark there territory, a concept that I really liked - something so non-obtrusive being part of a larger order, sort of like a secret society.

Kingdom is sort of a corporate espionage thriller with the science fiction sneaking in without anyone really noticing. There’s a little bit of religious/metaphysical hand waving to set up the conceit that a gene is essentially what connects us to a divine being, but mostly it’s about gaining political power through mad science and the manipulation of nature.

With that said, I could have used a little more science fiction, more exposure to the experiments taking place in the underground desert research lab and how it all led up to creating politicians. While there’s the explanation that the original project was to find a way to create a new generation of leaders, there didn’t seem to be a concrete idea beyond that. I also didn’t quite understand the power grab strategy that required the genetically modified people in the first place, particularly who was ultimately behind the plan. Crazy mad scientist Morrison? Some shadowy government figure? I don’t know.

Kingdom ends in a way that makes it sound like the second book in this Tiber City series will be going in a totally different direction, though focusing primarily on Dylan. It also gave me the impression that the monks who are mostly set dressing in this volume will become a much bigger part of the story, which I think will lend some more weight to the gene-as-human-soul concept. Overall Kingdom was a quick read with a compelling narrative and surprisingly sympathetic characters that made me want to learn more about this Tiber City while freaking me out at the same time.

 

I received a copy of this book from the author for an honest review as part of his blog tour. Thank you Anderson and I look forward to seeing where you take all this crazy.