Rx: A Tale of Electronegativity by Robert Brockway
Published in 2012
Genre: Science fiction
“Red dreamt in half-present shapes; screen burnt images twisting behind his eyelids.”
Red is a drug beta tester living in a city called the Four Pillars. He is given a contract to try a new version of Presence, a drug people use that somehow allows them all to hallucinate en masse. While under the influence of this drug, he ends up in the slums of the city and must find his way back (the destination isn’t explicitly explained, so let’s just say somewhere not in the slums) before the company that pays him to test the drug sends hired goons to kill him for breaching his nondisclosure agreement. If this sounds strange and a little confusing, that’s because it is; Rx: A Tale of Electronegativity is one of the worst science fiction books I have ever read. It was a chore to finish and if I hadn’t been reading it in order to write this review, I would have dropped it by the end of chapter two. That rhyme wasn’t intentional.
Science fiction and fantasy books require a certain amount of world building; Rx: A Tale of Electronegativity fails miserably at this. What little explanation of the world that is present is fraught with technobabble and complicated descriptions of chemical compounds that don’t tell the reader much.
Red’s BioOS is introduced in the first few pages of chapter one but isn’t explained. The BioOS returns after the introduction of another character in chapter two and is finally written out as Biological Operating System, but even then it’s only given a cursory description. Another overdue explanation concerns Presence, the drug that the book’s plot relies heavily on. Apparently, it is an inhalant that people take ton experience communal hallucinations. While this is an interesting idea, it takes over 80 pages to be explained and many of those pages refer to Presence but never fully tell the reader what it is.
Possibly the worst part about the world building present is that there isn’t any overall context. Brockway goes to great lengths to show the social hierarchy and daily details of the slums, but there’s no exposition to help the reader place the story geographically or in time. Some characters speak with Scottish and Irish accents and use British curse words like bullocks and arse. Is this city a mixture of people from all over the world? Are there any other cities like this? What happened to make drugs the main form of currency and trade?
Along with an unclear setting, the language of both the dialogue and description is another problem posed by this book. While I don’t mind cursing when it is appropriate or serves some end, there are copious amounts of it in Rx: A Tale of Electronegativity. Many of the people living in the slums speak through vulgarities, which I suppose you can use as an excuse, but the character QC does so in combinations that don’t even make sense. It seems like it is only present for shock value due to the severe vulgarity of the words.
In keeping with this error, the language of internal description contradicts the characters actions and dialogue. While in 3rd person, the internal narrative should either be consistent for each character, or change enough to tell the difference. The only character whose language is a little more dressed up is Byron, whose upper class status makes it appropriate. There are also esoteric (yes, I realize the irony) and often awkward words that are unnecessarily complicated throughout the remainder of the book. Writers should keep their language as simple as possible, not try to show off their vocabulary.
All of this similarity seems to wear on Brockway as well because there is actually a line in the book that begins, “QC said something condescending…” He can’t even think of anymore dialogue for characters that all sound the same. If the author gives up and if the dialogue or exchange isn’t important, why is it even present?
Almost worse than the language are the characters, who are flat and based on gimmicks and stereotypes; Red is a drug tester/screw up that swears a lot, Byron is an effeminate drug addict, QC swears a lot, Zippy/Sera pretends to be dumb but everyone knows she isn’t because people put on fake acts all the time yet she continues to surprise them (the logic of this is beyond me and warranted that run-on sentence) and swears a lot, and James is a drinking, fighting, Irishman who swears a lot. They all spend most of their time trying to outdo each other in weirdness and there is no character growth present.
This lack of progress is apparent in the fact that it isn’t until halfway through the book that the real conflict is explicitly stated. Early on, there are just oblique references to malevolent forces and the antagonists are introduced too late in the story. The pacing doesn’t pick up until the end and when the final boss is confronted, I didn’t even remember his name to make the connection to earlier in the story, so the possibility of anything close to an emotional revelation was lost.
I will say that the weapons and action are inventive and well done, but they don’t make up for the boring first half and over the top attempts to be funny or gruesome. I also felt the book was bogged down by formatting and grammatical issues. The font and spacing make it look like each paragraph is a separate section and it almost seems like it was printed directly off Microsoft Word. I’m not sure who edited the book but the grammatical errors are plenty and really bog down a story with a lot of potential. Feel free to try Rx: A Tale of Electronegativity if any of this sounds appealing to you, but I would not recommend it to anyone I wanted to enjoy a book.
Verdict: 2 overly complicated vocabulary words out of 5
Recommended for: Fans of incessant technobabble, those who enjoy convoluted plots that take far too long to reach an enjoyable pace, masochists, and people who don’t like reading (just kidding, they shouldn’t read this either).
Not recommended for: Those who can read, people averse to cursing, fans of well written science fiction, or you.