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Friday, September 21, 2012

Clean by Alex Hughes w/ Bonus Q&A with the author (Reviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)

Order “Clean” HERE
Read an excerpt HERE

AUTHOR INFORMATION: Alexandra "Alex" Hughes was born in Savannah and grew up in Southern Atlanta. Her fascination with science fiction and fantasy began when she first read the Pern Dragonriders books. Alex majored with a European history focus and is often inspired by history. She is a graduate of the prestigious Odyssey Writing Workshop and a Semi-Finalist in the 2011 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Awards. Her hobbies include swing dancing, cooking and music. This is her debut.

OFFICIAL BLURB: I used to work for the Telepath's Guild before they kicked me out for a drug habit that wasn't entirely my fault. Now I work for the cops, helping Homicide Detective Isabella Cherabino put killers behind bars.

My ability to get inside the twisted minds of suspects makes me the best interrogator in the department. But the normals keep me on a short leash. When the Tech Wars ripped the world apart, the Guild stepped up to save it. But they had to get scary to do it--real scary. 

Now the cops don't trust the telepaths, the Guild doesn't trust me, a serial killer is stalking the city--and I'm aching for a fix. But I need to solve this case. Fast. I've just had a vision of the future: I'm the next to die.

FORMAT/INFO: Clean is 340 pages long divided over thirty numbered chapters. Narration is in the first-person via a sole character. Clean is the first volume of the Mindspace Investigations series and the author is currently working on the second book, which is titled Sharp.

September 4, 2012 marked the US Paperback and e-book publication of Clean by ROC books.

ANALYSIS: Clean comes with an interesting premise, its set in the future and features a Telepath who is also an addict trying to stop a serial murderer. This premise was what attracted me to this book and so I jumped into this noir-SF-UF procedural mix. I wanted to see how this debut was going to hold up since it's from ACE-ROC who have been coming up with some stellar stuff including the soon to be released Daughter Of The Sword that was such a terrific one.

Clean starts with an interrogation wherein the protagonist is interviewing a witness who has no clue about his abilities. As per the Guild ratings he’s classified as a level eight Telepath. That is a big deal and were it not for his drug habit in regards to Satin, he would be a very important persona in the pecking order of the Guild. Things unfortunately haven’t worked out and so he finds himself working for the Atlanta police department. His life isn’t perfect, far from it but he’s fighting hard one moment at a time.

The world this series is set in is the future but not exactly specified how much. It’s a world, which has been laid distraught by an event called the "Tech Wars”. This event was a bit similar to the rise of Skynet from the Terminator mythology, the machines did rise up but were unsuccessful in dismantling Humanity from the species table. Since then the American way of life has changed and machines and technology have become something of an anathema. The author introduces the world slowly through out the protagonist’s eyes and from information that is sparse and spread out here and there through out the story (the reason for it being so is discussed by the author in the Q&A below).

The story is then focused on the search for a killer who has been going around killing people in a brutal manner and detective Isabella Cherabino and the protagonist might be the only people who can figure him out and stop his deadly spree. One thing I have to give the author credit for, she has taken on a huge mix of genre styles and has managed to combine them with a story about identity and redemption quite successfully. This story has a very strong procedural feel to it but what differentiates also it, is its urban fantasy-thriller settings. The world that the plot focusses upon is one of the future and is dystopian to a degree but not in the way you would expect. After the Tech Wars, mankind has become very wary of technology and so the world settings feel a bit like the 70s before the advent of computers, cell phones and other tech stuff in to the common man’s life. However the moment you end up think its in the past, something crazy happens to remind you of the world and time settings.

Characterization is vital with a first person POV narrative and in this case even more so when the POV voice is an addict who’s desperately trying to balance his cravings against his moral judgment. This book could have turned out to be very depressing because of the predicament of the protagonist however to the author’s credit, it doesn’t turn out to be so much so as to turn the reader off. Plus there’s also the mystery of the main protagonist’s name that isn't revealed until the very last paragraph of the story. That was a very cool twist to the story and it doesn’t feel too weird as through out the story wherein no one refers to the main character by his name.

Lastly only a couple of factors go against this debut book, the first factor being is its pace. The book begins very very slowly and through the first 70-80 pages, the world setting as well as the character backstory is languidly set up. This really doesn’t help as many a reader might be off-put by such a beginning. Also the world settings and backstory are only given lip service but never clearly explained. For me this was a major off-putting point, I as a reader always like to know about the world. But the author reveals very little in regards to what came before that has lead to the world being in the state it’s described.

CONCLUSION: Alex Hughes’s debut is a good one, she has taken amalgamated lots of factors into a single storyline and has done it decently. There are some issues, which might pop out more depending on the reader’s choices and likes. Clean is a book that gives a different type of procedural story and one I hope that will continue to its eventual conclusion. A solid and interesting debut that promises to be worthy of your time.

Bonus Q/A with Alexandra Hughes


Q] Welcome to Fantasy Book Critic. To start with, could you tell us what inspired you to be a writer in the first place, what experience you went through in finding a publisher, how you ended up with Ace-Roc books, and anything else you’d like to share about yourself?

AH: I’ve always been a big reader from the time I was a very small kid. After awhile, I started thinking I could write one of the novels I was reading, and my parents encouraged me. Finding a publisher was a long and complex process (I received hundreds of rejections and had more than one crisis of faith), but the process encouraged me to grow and hone my craft as a writer, which I would not trade for the world. I entered Clean in the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Awards 2011, and it reached the Semi-Finals. It turns out that Penguin reads all of the Semi-Final manuscripts, and they read mine and decided to buy it for the Ace-Roc book imprint. Which is awesome – I love their books. (Wen Spencer, for example, is one of my favorite authors.)

Q] What was the precise spark of inspiration that lead to the creation of Mindspace investigation series?

AH: I had just read Joan D. Vinge’s Catspaw, which features a tortured telepath trying to make his way in the world. I had a friend at the time who was really struggling towards health and away from severe anorexia/bulimia, and I wanted to talk about that struggle and addiction, but I knew I’d need something easier to understand, like a substance. And I’ve always been a huge fan of cop shows. So the seeds got put together into this result.

Q] Your world is tremendously shaped by an event called “The Tech Wars” though curiously not much is revealed in the book. What was your reasoning behind this move?

AH: Most people don’t talk a lot about history in the US from 60 years ago, so I didn’t think I needed to go into a great deal of depth. The world is what it is, and we try to make our way in it. Plus, one of day in the future (when I’m good enough to pull it off), I’m going to write the story of the Tech Wars, and I want to leave myself the breathing room to do it well.

Q] Your story is a curious mix of noir, SF and urban fantasy. What drew you to the subject matter of the series?

AH: See my earlier response. The idea was formed in the early 2000s, before urban fantasy was a formal genre. There was Laurell K. Hamilton, and there was Tanya Huff, and a few other authors in that space, but nothing formal. I loved the idea of taking unconventional bits and making something new – and I still do. The result is hard to categorize, but it works on its own terms, and works well, I think.

Q] Your novel had a very curious phenomenon, the main character’s name is never revealed till the very last line of the book. Why such a twist to the story?

AH: I was going through a literary faze at the time, and wanted to play with this idea of naming and identity. He’s a guy in search of his place and his identity, and when he finds it, he gets a name. It shouldn’t be in your face, but it should add to the subject matter of the book.

Q] I’ve noticed that your web presence is very gender-neutral. Even I was a bit unsure until I googled you. Any particular reasoning behind this maneuverer?

AH: Both my agent and my editor feel that the book could be more successful if people think it comes from a male author, since the protagonist is male. I also tend to get less queries about my POV choices if people think I’m a guy – which is nice. So, for this first book at least, we’re trying to keep the web presence and other marketing a little bit gender neutral. I don’t want to outright lie, but I don’t mind letting people draw their own conclusions and letting the work speak for itself.

Q] Speaking of the series, how many volumes do you think will be required for the Mindspace investigation series? What can you tell us about books two, three and the series beyond?

AH: I’ve sketched out nine books in general terms for the series, but I’m not a strict outline writer so there could be more or less in final form for the same arc. Book Two, Sharp, picks up where this one leaves off – with Cherabino and the main character having to work through new challenges and face an old enemy back in town. It will be out in April. There’s also a novella in the same universe out in March.

Q] From your website, I noticed that you count yourself as a foodie with a special interest in the Food network. So could you expound on what’s your favorite dish and what’s the toughest dish you ever had to prepare?

AH: Asking for my favorite dish is like asking for a favorite book. Today I’ll say a perfectly cooked, beautiful chicken parmesan with a nice, clean tomato sauce and fresh pasta, with a side salad with balsamic vinaigrette.

Q] What types of books do you like to read, and who are your favorite authors in the genres that you read?

AH: When it comes to books, I love everything, but particularly scifi and urban fantasy. I’ll stray into the thriller and mystery section and the romance section on occasion as well, and I love anything well written and historical with great details. Favorite authors changes depending on the day you ask me, but today I’ll call out Suzanne Brockman, David Weber, early Laurell K. Hamilton, Catherine Asaro, and Emma Bull.

Q] Lastly as a writer, what do you aspire for? What are your future plans?

AH: I’d love to do a nice long career of books and stories with several series. I’d like to keep getting better over time. And I’d like to entertain and touch readers with stories that entertain and touch me. That’s the part that makes me excited about getting up in the morning. Future plans are whatever I can do to make those things happen.

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