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The Nemesis List by R.J. Firth

01/11/2010. Contributed by Gareth D Jones

Buy The Nemesis List in the USA - or Buy The Nemesis List in the UK

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pub: TOR-UK/Pan Macmillan. 303 page small hardback. Price: GBP 16.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-0-230-74891-0.

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‘The Nemesis List’ is the debut novel by R.J. Frith, the winning author of the ‘War Of The Worlds’ competition run by ‘SFX’ magazine. On discovering this fact, my thoughts were that it could turn out to be a brilliant book by a previously undiscovered author or a rather dire effort that was the best of a bad lot. The plot sounds interesting and exciting enough if clichéd in places. A boy who was the subject of illegal experimentation to boost brain-power, among other things, escapes and is hunted by the government and his former captors. His abilities could be the key to a revolutionary movement against a government that stifles scientific research. So far so good.

But that’s not all. He was actually rescued by government troops, taken into care, transported as a mental patient on a prison ship at some point, escaped during a riot, saved the life of a soldier who later became a bounty hunter and tried to re-capture him, met up with one of the former scientists who helped him, killed some of his other former captors, joined up with an intergalactic mafia-type family, worked as a crewman on an old freighter, was captured by the bounty hunter, tracked down and rescued by the mafia family or maybe the government, helped by the police, who may be working for the government, hi-jacked by the police/government/revolutionaries on board the bounty hunter’s ship, escaped from the navy, who are allied to all or any of the foregoing and was also very ill and dependant on a whole host of drugs.

It’s either brilliantly complex or completely barmy. I suspect the former, but the interweaving of flashbacks in the narrative and the explanations of who and why various characters and organisations are involved after they re-appear, left me with a bit of a headache. Especially as the back story is filled in by various POV characters who tend to have different viewpoints on the government, the revolutionaries and illegal scientists so there is no consistent picture to fit them in.

If you’re happy just to go along with the ride, then it’s enjoyable enough. The mentally enhanced/damaged escapee is named Jones, probably not named after me. It’s through his flashbacks and periods of delusion that we pick up most of the background, albeit in a confusing way. His desperation and his single-minded determination are well portrayed. If only his purpose was equally clear, it would be much easier to identify with him.

The author has an odd habit of switching to the present indefinite tense mid-paragraph or even mid-sentence. This can be a bit off-putting when you’re reading an involving piece as it throws your engagement with the narrative and you end up looking at the words instead. There’s plenty of intrigue and complexity to keep even the most paranoid conspiracy theorist guessing and that is probably the book’s strongest point.

Gareth D. Jones
September 2010

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This book has 956 votes in the sci-fi charts

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