Humanity has expanded into the stars, spreading to new parts of the galaxy, but for this adventure they have paid with their freedom. All technology is now carefully controlled by the central government, every new scientific achievement is closely monitored and any deviation from the governments set standards is met with death.
But on the fringes of space, criminals operate, making money out of illegal and unlicensed technology. It is here that ex-soldier Frank Pak makes his money, as a captain of a ship, when he’s given a contract he doesn’t ask questions. But all goes awry when Frank accepts a job ferrying a runaway, Jeven Jones, back to his family. Jeven is no ordinary passenger and soon Frank and his crew are caught up in a fledgling revolution, one that could determine the fate of humanity.
R.J. Firth’s debut novel, The Nemesis List, was the winner of Sci-Fi Now’s War of the Worlds competition. The biggest science fiction competition in the country. The Nemesis List is packed full of good ideas and interesting characters but feels somewhat inconsistent. As with a lot of debut novels it feels as though Firth threw everything he could think of at the story and then saw what stuck.
The central characters, grizzled, no-nonsense Frank Pak and damaged, conflicted Jeven Jones are easily the books strong points. Jeven in particular is a very interesting creation, part science experiment gone wrong, part cocky, murderous con-man. His illnesses and drug dependences make him unpredictable and at points quite terrifying, and as a reader it is a treat not to know what a character is going to do next. Frank Pak is Jeven’s polar opposite, a calm, dependable man who is just concerned with getting the job done and keeping his crew safe, he is the anchor which guides the reader in this gale of a story.
The other characters in the book are not so strong, Pak’s crew are a collection of misfit stereotypes, Haine (the angry one), Foley (wise and unshakable), Kady (the token spunky girl on a ship full of gruff, tough men.) The story also lacks a real bad guy; it is attempted in the ice cool fix-it-man Nash but it doesn’t really come off. It is a shame, because more interesting characters pass by the wayside, only getting the odd chapter to establish themselves before getting swept aside. The sadistic Captain Hetta Combes and the lonely, pathetic Christian MacKay Calder are prime examples.
The story while sparking into life at points is also a little frustrating. Early in the novel we learn that Jeven was abducted as a child and experimented on. He is changed in ways he cannot understand, leaving him twisted and vulnerable. He has killed two men and plans to kill many more, names on a list which he will not deviate from. It is an excellent idea but we never really learn the back story to the list or the men he has killed. There is also no examples of the big, bad government which supposedly controls everyone and everything. It is of course fine to suggest subtle manipulating control, the ID chips implanted into the back of everyone’s neck for example. But there feels like there is no serious threat to drive the story. No reason for the equally under developed rebellion to rebel.
The ending suggests perhaps a series; at least a sequel and maybe more will be explained and expanded upon there. This is fine, it is OK to leave unanswered questions but you have to give the reader a reason to come back. Does Firth do this? Maybe. The main characters are strong and if light, easy to read, Space Opera is your thing then you will find much to enjoy in this spaghetti western set on the edge of space.
But if you’re looking for something a bit more grown up and challenging give it a miss.
Review by Charlie White
1 positive reader review(s) for The Nemesis List
Frank from Netherlands
Excellent book, well written and a little quirky. The plot I find gripping, and the story elements very natural (no small feat in science fiction). Nice to see that the author relies on the intelligence and imagination of the reader to play an active part.
8/10 from 2 reviews