Minerva Century by James E. Parsons

Minerva CenturyIn the future, humans have left earth and settled on the planet Minerva. A race of cyborgs found their own planet; Cycle One. However, the humans control the cyborg population. They are easily reprogrammed when required. There is also a mutant planet, humanity’s fail first attempt at colonisation, and a few space stations floating around. Sometimes a story is enough to carry a novel. Sometimes the style or prose is enough to keep a reader interested. In Minerva Century Parsons unfortunately fails on both counts, but not for the want of effort. This is the story of patrol cyborg Dale and his friend Cathy. They have secrets and mysterious history together.

Parsons has populated his universe with a wealth of characters and Minerva Century has several plot strands to accommodate them. As well as Dale and Cathy’s story, there is a captain of a cyborg patrol ship (Nero), human leaders (Sir Blake, Sir Alex, Lady Amy and Lady Amelia for example), a band of female called Vessels, and the mysterious Klasp Cult Tech-Watchers, among many others that have moments from their point of view. But Dale takes the main stage. He finds his body dismantled so makes his way to a space station, where three businessmen pay for him to get some patch-ups so he can participate in fly-races. Events conspire to bring Dale and Cathy together, and they decide to work out who they really are. Meanwhile, there are some human-shaped space craft appearing, as rumours of the tech-watchers begin to escalate. A tech-watcher called Torch appears to be interfering. Dale and Cathy separate and Dale decides to make himself human. Cathy trains as a Vessel but has her own agenda. On Cycle One, the Brutal Games are approaching – competitive fighting among cyborgs.

Parsons spends a great deal of the first quarter of the book – and it is a dense book, 400+ pages of small text – world-building. However, it is often repetitive and confusing. His prose fluctuates from imaginative and poetic, to clunky and just plain odd (“casual galactic space business deals”). Sometimes, the oddness works in the dialogue as it gives the characters an almost alien perspective (“I’m a driver, sometimes a racer”). I’m not sure what the purpose of having so many characters in the story has, other than to give it the feel of being a diverse universe – many come and go in a blink of an eye, and still others are not named yet have dialogue. Which brings me to the naming of the characters. It felt particularly jarring to have the book populated with the likes of Amy, Dale, Cathy, Roy, Daphne, Jess, John and others, alongside Nero, Sil-Mah, Doorstep, Jax and Torch for example. All feels a little 1970s in execution. In fact, along with ideas like the Brutal Games and the Vessels, Minerva Century reminded me of sci-fi exploitation cinema of the 70s and 80s, when cyberpunk gained popularity and cheap films featuring Michael Ironside were common. The Vessels in particular could be the Bene Gesserit sisterhood from Dune. The have visions of the future and they are a sisterhood.

I think that Parson’s story has some interesting elements. The usual cyborg v human trope of this type novel works well, primarily because the paths Cathy and Dale choose to take. However, the prose is off-putting, and needs a great editor. If Parsons had a little more faith in his readership and cut out a lot of the exposition, it would read a lot better. Many of the secondary stories and characters are superfluous to any enjoyment too. The three businessmen who originally hire Dale, Nero, and the human council members (the Ladies and Sirs) in particular brought little to the story. Early on, Parsons says Minerva is a ‘new human planet’. However, he repeatedly says things happened decades ago. In fact, he seems unsure of how long the histories should be. “Years and decades ago” is a reoccurring phrase throughout the world-building. Cathy and Dale had been apart for more than a decade or decades, although they are both written as if they are quite young. Cathy has memories of living on Cycle One in some hazy past. Amelia and Warren have known each other since they were teenagers, for “over twenty years” but it seems they knew or even lived on Earth. And he’s very vague about things. Phrases exemplified by “some local colony” pepper the text while sentences frequently end with “and more” or similar.

I’m sorry to say that I was confused about the narrative structure of the universe Parsons has built, which is down to the multiple character arcs which don’t seem to have much purpose, a bafflingly vague timeline and some overwrought prose. A tighter plot featuring just Cathy and Dale’s story, some rigorous editing and less exposition might lead to Minerva Century being a half-decent book.

This book was kindly donated by the author in exchange for a fair review.

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