In this science fiction novel, a member of a peaceful immortal race sets out to win a technological gladiator sport to save his people from extinction. Only time will tell if he will survive and manage to do what is right when everything around him is wrong.
Plot: This novel is a fun, fast paced page-turner with lots of action.
Prose: The writing is succinct and moves along at a quick pace, which lends itself to the near constant action the book provides. The author describes the environments and the action vividly without allowing the narrative momentum to get bogged down by too many unnecessary details.
Originality: The novel is heavily influenced by video game conventions—and this works in its favor. The author assumes little, and relies on the brisk and detailed writing to build a universe that features elements that will be familiar to many while at the same time wholly original.
Character Development: Paul Benedict is both an action hero and a family man. In a lesser book this might make for a laborious dichotomy, but here it greatly supports the motivation of the protagonist. AI Siren is handled well and given enough humanity to be a strong supporting character. Some other characters, such as evil Shadow and benevolent Kaiser, can occasionally feel more like types than fleshed-out characters with their own motivations—but this does not detract from the book.
Date Submitted: May 10, 2017
In Llave’s debut novel, future humans have divided into two major groups: the purely pacifistic and love-driven Utopians, who live in immortality and abundance, and the hateful and warlike Kazats, whose thrive on inequality and intolerance.
Both cultures have advanced technology of many kinds, including space travel and extraordinary engineered materials, but a religious fervor among the Kazats urges them to slaughter and destroy the Utopians for their violation of a divine natural order. Caught in this escalating struggle is a Utopian named Paul Benedict, an unusual man because of his daring, risk-taking, and desire to fight back against the invaders. Eager to safeguard the lives of his people and of his wife and daughters and anxious about attacks on their planet that were directed by the Kazats, Paul works with other Utopians—including the legendary Father Kaiser, “Founder of all Utopians”—to develop a nonlethal combat suit called Variance. With Variance, he may be able to stem the tide of war while still upholding the Utopian ideal of preserving all life, even that of enemies. But things grow complicated when Paul gets the chance to win an even more bloodless victory by engaging the enemy in a deadly battle sport called Divine Might. The stakes are high, but if Paul can use Variance to claim the championship of the game, he can claim the prize—a wish granted by the tournament’s game master—that will change the course of history. The book includes a short set of stylish, evocative illustrations that support the text. Fast pacing and lots of action provide momentum while the nuts-and-bolts talk of engineering and science make the worlds feel believable yet alien. Likable characters and breezy dialogue add to the fun.
A grand, epic, upbeat sci-fi adventure with an anime influence.
Variance: Raise Your Weapon by Josen Llave is a compelling sci-fi novel that features a complex plot and sophisticated characters. The Utopian race is a group of immortals who live in love and peace. Their world is perfect, one would say, but then it is suddenly threatened by alien scouts. The man behind the threats is Shadow, a merciless and selfish man bent on eliminating the Utopian race. He is the one considered the game Master of the Divine Might and this gladiator game could be the only way for the Utopians to protect themselves. Now a hero emerges in Paul Benedict, a man who is determined to protect his family from aliens and who invents a nonlethal battle suit to help against all attacks. Now, he must earn protection for his race by trumping the game. Can he survive the complexities of the game and prevent the worst form of tragedy from happening to his kind?
The story starts with the intriguing, captivating, and dramatic statement that immediately introduces the reader to the conflict and the tense atmosphere within which the action takes place: “He was the only Utopian traveling toward danger. He should not have been there.” The action begins from this point and there is no slowing down. I enjoyed the fact that the author wastes no time in introducing the reader to the protagonist and his world. The setting is like no place I have ever imagined nor come close to imagining, but it feels strangely familiar, the kind of world we sometimes visit in our dreams after an exciting experience. Josen Llave’s prose is excellent and readers will enjoy how the author captures dramatic moments in the story, explores the depth of his characters, and builds the conflict that drives the plot. Variance: Raise Your Weapon is a fascinating story, delightful and with a satisfying ending. A masterpiece!"