Superego by Frank J. Fleming is an awesome, fun sci-fi thriller that lets itself go off the beaten track of the genre. The main character, Rico, is a sociopath and a highly skilled mob hitman in a galaxy populated by multiple species and governments. Dispatched to do a mysterious something at the kind-of-UN meeting meant to create an alliance to crush his now genocidal bosses, things go awry when he finds himself stopping a terrorist attack. From there, things continue to go awry, though maybe they also go a bit right, too.
First of all this book is darkly hilarious. You will laugh out loud often because of such gems as this:
“I’m going downstairs,” I said, “If there are any terrorists down there you care about, you’d better tell me now, because I shoot unclaimed terrorists.”-Superego, Frank J. Fleming
The terrorists in this book are, in fact, space ISIS. That’s not a metaphor. An alien fanatical cult dedicated to a murderous machine god encountered Islamic fundamentalism at some point in the past and they got on swell, so now they are the same thing and are terrorizing the galaxy.
The world depicted in Superego is very reminiscent of Mass Effect or the old Star Wars EU or the video game Stellaris. There are many species and they are very different; a running gag is that when Rico describes a species, he first notes what color their blood is (or wonders about it). However, they work together, mostly, to one end or another. It’s not a utopian Star Trek world. You’ve got organized crime that’s essentially another set of nation-states. You’ve got the aforementioned terrorists. You’ve got typical political corruption.
Diane, the other major character in this book, is another reason it breaks what is modern convention for this genre. She is a badass cop, but also a lot of other things, and one of them is a Christian. It’s not her primary trait, but it is a key one and a big motivation for her. It’s good to see Christianity depicted positively but not ham-handedly in any book these days. This isn’t a Christian novel and, as a woman of faith, I think Christian artists need to take this approach more often. The Bible does feature, but mostly in a sort of joke about the raw grimness of Ecclesiastes in particular.
Bad things, very bad things, happen in this book. It’s not a humor novel, though Rico deals with life in a sort of bleak humor that makes sense for a sociopath. I appreciate its balance. So often people write in all funny or all morbid styles, but even life in the muddy trenches wasn’t all grim stoicism and even comedians have dark times, as we all know.
One other break from modern convention is that Rico’s sociopathy is not depicted in the same positive way as, say, Sherlock from Sherlock or all the other ‘psycho heroes’ we get these days. The usual thing is to pretend that it’s a condition that makes someone hyper logical and practical in all things. Rico sort of thinks that, to the point that he thinks much about it at all, but it doesn’t seem really true. Largely it prevents him fully understanding other people. He has to practice being social and it’s as much a survival skill in his eyes as gunplay, though much less enjoyable. He doesn’t seem interested in developing a long term plan for his life or anything at all. His motivations are largely in the moment and small. In many ways, he drifts through life at the whim of those who have real motivations beyond survival or pleasure. How that all plays out in the book is interesting and at least today I can’t properly articulate what happens in Rico’s head and life. Besides, it’d be spoiling everything anyways.
Find Superego on Amazon. It’s a really good book and well worth a read. I’ll do a write up on the sequel when I finish it.