The Scrambled Man

THE SCRAMBLED MAN – Novel – Self-published via Amazon (2015) – Find it here

By Michael John Bertrand – (Cdn – Richmond, B.C.)

Premise:  Thanks to Inventor Roland Banks and his United Teleline Corporation, teleport stations are becoming ubiquitous throughout the Earth, and more and more people are using them. However many still don’t trust the new technology, especially when somebody materializes as a blob of tissue so randomized even the DNA is scrambled. Investigator Adam Eden, the world’s first genetically perfect man, needs to identify the victim and come up with a credible explanation for what happened to ensure it will never happen again. Public confidence in the new technology is at risk. Not to mention human lives. A solution to the problem must be found!

Michael is a prolific blogger, and last year set himself the task of writing a million words. He succeeded, and this novel, his first, is one of the results of that effort. As typical of most first novels, it has a number of flaws that would have been flagged in any workshop I’ve ever attended or presented, and a number of strengths and virtues that show signs of great promise.

Flaws first. I feel a couple of plot points are introduced later than they should have been, which weakens their credibility, and that there’s not enough description of settings to create a firm sense of place for the various locations the characters find themselves. A tad too many characters actually. Conflating some of them would have aided the flow of the plot methinks. However, since this is a published work rather than a work in progress, being nitpicky over minor potential improvements is pointless. All that is relevant to potential readers are the positive aspects which make the book worth reading.

First of all, the identity of “The Scrambled Man” took me by surprise. Not what I was anticipating. Well done, Michael. And secondly, discovering who was scrambled does not resolve the problem, in fact it raises the stakes and makes the problem much, much worse. Rather clever that.

I also enjoyed the occasional “neat touches,” like the fact that aircraft are mere hobby toys since all commercial cargo and passenger traffic is now strictly monopolized by UT Corporation, or the incident with the Teleport Station “official greeter” who gets so annoyed with an “anti-telly” protester he shoves him into a teleport booth to get rid of him. Said teleportee consequently becomes convinced he’s been transformed into a mere replica without a soul, much to his group’s propaganda advantage. And then there’s the growing frustration of an investigator who teleports to another city to interview the leader of said protest group, only to be completely ignored because the guy refuses to talk to “dead people.” Michael doesn’t just use teleportation as a “gimmick,” he explores the possible implications and impact on people’s daily lives.

Another thing that struck me is that Michael manages to reveal the selfish motivations underlying all his characters, both major and minor. Everyone has a purpose, an agenda, an angle, a pet peeve, or even an obsession. This is something beginning writers often leave out, to their detriment, since place-holder characters are frequently off-putting to readers. Michael has successfully avoided this problem.

And successfully captured the mindset of prominent public figures who find it ridiculously easy to cover up a potential catastrophe since they identify the concept of “the public good” with themselves and not the ignorant members of the public who do NOT need to know and are in fact better off not knowing. The complacent “we know best” attitude of the powers-that-be comes across quite well.

Rating: Entertaining. “The Scrambled Man” is a fast-paced who-done-it that would not be out-of-place on stage or as a radio show. Michael firmly believes “Science Fiction is the literature of ideas” and what you get are onion layers of concepts peeled off one after the other till the truth is revealed. The book, despite the teleportation angle, is not hard science but more of a detective adventure mystery, and as such, a lot of fun.

Disclaimer: Michael and I have known each other for years. We’re both members of the B.C. SF Association. So naturally the review is biased in his favour, but really only in accordance with my policy concerning first time authors. Rather than “workshop” an already published book or story, I consider it far more useful to list strengths and virtues and thus encourage both potential readers and the writer himself at one and the same time. Onwards and upwards the universal motto I say.

Besides, I enjoyed the book, which outweighs any minor teething aspects to the writing as far as I’m concerned. A lot of potential shown. I quite look forward to his next novel. (You are planning one, aren’t you Michael?)

By the by, I ordered the print-on-demand hard copy from Amazon. I expected to receive a pocketbook. Instead what came in the mail was an 8&1/2 inch by 11 inch soft cover about 90 pages thick. Are all print-on-demand books in this format? I have no idea. It does make for easy reading though, the font being a good size and a decent amount of white space to rest the eyes. Looks good.

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