THE IMMORTALITY THIEF by Taran Hunt
Solaris, Kindle version, £5.99
Review by Stephen Frame
The Immortality Thief is about a hunt through an ancient derelict spacecraft for a priceless treasure, a cache of data that could yield up the secret of eternal life. If Star Wars is your idea of top-notch science fiction, then you’ll likely enjoy this. If you prefer space-opera more grounded, then approach with some caution. The main character is Sean Wren, a rogue and a criminal forced into the task of finding the treasure aboard the doomed ship. He has a gauntlet of obstacles in his way; the local sun is about to go nova, the ship is infested with monsters, and he is thrown into an uneasy alliance with two individuals from rival groups who are also seeking the treasure.
On the one hand, it’s a fun, fast-moving adventure story with political leanings that doesn’t let physics get in the way of having a good time. On the other, it reads like a very long (600-page) stint in a first-person shooter computer game. There are only so many lurking monsters and unlit, wreck-strewn compartments you can crawl through with the main characters before it gets a bit samey.
Though it does have its moments. The chapters are short and numerous, which adds to the fast texture of the narrative. The main character is suitably likeable, gobby and headstrong, not your average action hero, specialising in linguistics rather than the application of violence. The unlikely alliance/enemies to friends plot line between Sean and his fellow travellers is handled well and is needed to balance out the increasingly routine encounters with the spacecraft’s hungry inhabitants. But there are just too many contrived plot devices and well-worn tropes we’ve seen before (Insect-like killer nanobots? Check. Mad AI? Check. Roaming monsters produced by genetic manipulation? Check. Inscrutable aliens with super-hero like powers? Check. Mini bombs implanted in the neck to coax the characters along? Check.) And they often feel like they’ve been crammed in just to give the main characters something to do.
Where the story works best is in the numerous flashbacks to Sean’s tragic life on his home planet and how this connects to his present circumstances. It provides some much-needed substance and emotional connection to balance the long journey through the wrecked ship.