Review: Automatic Reload by Ferrett Steinmetz

Review: Automatic Reload by Ferrett SteinmetzAutomatic Reload by Ferrett Steinmetz
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: cyberpunk, dystopian, romantic comedy, romantic suspense, science fiction
Pages: 304
Published by Tor Books on July 28, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Ferrett Steinmetz's quirky, genre-mashing cyberpunk romance Automatic Reload a high-octane adventure about a grizzled mercenary with machine gun arms who unexpectedly falls in love with a bio-engineered assassin
In the near-future, automation is king, and Mat is the top mercenary working the black market. He's your solider's solider, with military-grade weapons instead of arms...and a haunted past that keeps him awake at night. On a mission that promises the biggest score of his life, he discovers that the top secret shipment he's been sent to guard is not a package, but a person: Silvia.
Silvia is genetically-altered to be the deadliest woman on the planet--her only weakness is her panic disorder. When Mat decides to free her, both of them become targets of the most powerful shadow organization in the world. They go on the lam, determined to stop a sinister plot to create more super assassins like Silvia. Between bloody gunfights, rampant car chases and drone attacks, Mat and Silvia team up to survive...and unexpectedly realize their messed up brain-chemistry cannot overpower their very real chemistry.
Automatic Reload is the genre's most unexpectedly heartfelt romantic comedy with explosions, perfect for fans of both Die Hard and Mr. and Mrs. Smith."Steinmetz has mixed fast-paced shoot-em-up violence with a compassionate treatment of trauma and mental illness to create an engaging page-turner. Like Shadowrun with a conscience."-- Hugo Award-winning author Jim. C Hines
"Automatic Reload is for everyone who ever wished the Transformers movies were less Michael Bay, more transformation sequences; it luxuriates in the intricate beauty that is technology, exults in the mechanics of cyberpunk. And it does all this while being a rom-com with a lot of explosions." --Cassandra Khaw, finalist for the British Fantasy and Locus Awards for Hammers on Bone

My Review:

Automatic Reload was a wild ride from beginning to end. The kind of wild ride you get when you cross cyberpunk with dystopia and throw in a bit of romantic suspense for spice – and extra body. Make that bodies, definitely plural, bodies.

The genre of this book has been bent so much that it’s a pretzel. But I LOVE pretzels – and I’m sure I’m not alone.

The future that is posited in this story reminded me of a lot of things, and not just the idea that this is a possible future that we can see from here – without even having to squint too hard.

In a way, it’s the future that The Passengers by John Marrs was trying to warn against – at least until that story takes a hard left turn into more traditional suspense. But the idea that powers most of that book, that computers are controlling too much and making too many decisions based on programming rather than human ideals or human compassion is at the core of this story – even though it turned out not to be in that one.

There just aren’t a lot of jobs left for people. Computers even design and program other computers. They’re more efficient and more effective at nearly everything. Especially, as it turns out, warfare.

And that’s where our hero comes in. Mat started out as a drone soldier. He piloted the machines that made the actual war, and that distance was supposed to keep him from suffering all of the mental anguish that soldiers have to go through when they make the decision to kill an enemy. Because that decision can go wrong all too easily, wiping out an innocent, or a noncombatant, or a child.

But the distance doesn’t take away the pain, or the PTSD that Mat suffers after the drone he’s piloting kills a child who just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Mat’s way of dealing with the thoughts that won’t leave him is to overcompensate, both physically and mentally. He becomes, not exactly a cyborg, or they’re not called that, but a black market mercenary with four artificial limbs optimized for war. And he fine tunes the programming for all of his various alternate limbs to optimize his every routine and subroutine to eliminate – if possible – any chance of accidentally killing someone he shouldn’t. He does his level best, and it is very, very good, to remove any possibility of collateral damage.

Because the automation of all of his weaponry operates faster than he or any human can think. Once he gets into a situation the weapons are on automatic reload. But he can’t bear the thought of killing another innocent.

He’s done his best to make a living – because maintenance on his hardware and software is damn expensive – without putting himself into the cross-hairs of the IAC. A shadowy company that operates very much outside the law – because they control the law, the media, and pretty much any damn thing they want.

If the IAC decides he’s worth bothering, they’ll be able to trace his every networked movement since the dawn of time. They’ll know his every strength, his every weakness, his every move, even before he does. He’s done his best to stay far away from the “YAK”, as the IAC is usually referred to. Mostly in frightened whispers, because they really are everywhere, watching and listening to EVERYTHING.

It’s just supposed to be one very lucrative and very quick job. So of course it all goes pear-shaped, leaving Mat squarely in the YAK’s sights. But the reasons it’s gone so far down the rabbit hole is that the cargo he was supposed to deliver wasn’t just black market goods – it was a black market person named Silvia. A woman who had been altered against her will to be a deadly stealthy weapon – only her programming isn’t finished yet.

And if Mat has his way, it never will be. Because Mat’s PTSD and Silvia’s panic disorders mesh in a way that makes their whole much greater than the sum of any number of parts. A whole that the YAK must destroy no matter how much collateral damage it takes.

Unless the YAK has something else altogether up its sleeves – if it even has sleeves, that is.

Escape Rating A: Automatic Reload wasn’t anything I expected. At all. But it was a wonderful, totally wild ride in all of the best ways.

The mash-up is delightful and keeps throwing surprising things into its blender – which is definitely on high.

The world feels like an answer to The Passengers, mixed with the dystopia of Junkyard Cats by Faith Hunter. I can’t even articulate why Junkyard Cats, although I think some of it has to do with just how bad things are for most humans, and the amount of autonomy that her protagonist has programmed into her many mechanical friends and helpers. That one is a stretch.

The Passengers, on the other hand, is dead on for the worldbuilding rather than any of the characters. Both stories deal with the issues that we’re starting to face in the here and now. What do people do, and how do people support themselves, when the number of jobs that require a human being is on a downward trajectory. After all, it’s not immigration that has killed off so many jobs, it’s automation, and that’s a trend that’s going to continue.

I’ll admit that I also kept seeing Silvia as the character in the movie Monsters vs. Aliens, or at least the character in the movie poster. She’s not 50-feet tall, in fact she’s human proportioned on purpose in order to infiltrate better – to be a more effective assassin. But the issues she faces with suddenly discovering that she’s not who she used to be feel similar.

Although Silvia’s problems do not begin with her physical transformation. One of the strongest – and sweetest – elements of this story is the way that Mat and Silvia come to love each other for who they are, and that they both acknowledge that they both have a lot of mental issues that they compensate for in their own ways. Their mental illnesses are never swept under the rug, and love doesn’t cure them. But they make each other a bit stronger in their broken places in ways that are lovely to see, especially when they’re done well. As they certainly are in this case.

Initially I thought that the dystopian setup had elements of the worldbuilding of Ready Player One. And it definitely does. I just didn’t expect the plot to, in its own pretzel-twisty way, actually go there explicitly. But it does, with classic movies substituting – in a way – for 1980s pop culture trivia. And it happens in a way that will still totally surprise you.

So come to Automatic Reload for the dystopian world and especially the explosions. Stay for the brighter future that rises, somewhat shakily but delightfully on the horizon.

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