Book Review: Optional Retirement Plan by Chris Pourteau & a BONUS review: The Erkennen Job by Chris Pourteau

Book Title: Optional Retirement Plan: A Science Fiction Thriller

AuthorChris Pourteau

Publication Date: Nov. 5, 2019

Available onAmazon as an ebook and as a paperback

Indie Athenaeum Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars

Eugene “Stacks” Fischer is the chief enforcer for the Taulke Faction, one of the five factions of the Syndicate Corporation. Also known as SynCorp, these five corporations run the galaxy for their own gain: profit. Stacks has been able to benefit from this relationship for decades but now, things are changing.

Accused of accidentally sharing corporate secrets with cp-optional retirementthe local bar patrons due to the onset of Oldtimer’s disease, he’s told he has three days to get his affairs in order before he is forcibly retired. And by forcibly retired, Stacks knows that means he will be killed (!) Choosing to go on the run instead, will Stacks be able to survive the efforts to assassinate him in the next three days? Or will the effects of Oldtimer’s cause him to make the one fatal mistake that will get him killed?

With the resources of Tony Taulke, law enforcement across the galaxy is looking for him. Add in other bounty hunters with mysterious benefactors who are also out for his head, it’s going to take all of Stacks’ resources to try to get out of this one alive. Stacks has few friends and even fewer allies so the odds are… ahem… stacked against him.

This novel takes a lot of twists and turns, with plenty of surprises along the way. The action moves swiftly from one gunfight to the next and each one is different, brutal, messy and deadly. His constant attempts to elude the police, trying to find shelter and overall, trying to combat the debilitating effects of Oldtimer’s disease makes each engagement a suspenseful one.

vsHe’s armed only with his stunner, his knife, his old-fashioned .38 revolver that shoots bullets and decades of wisdom gained from his profession. Using these, he must outmaneuver his enemies, make questionable decisions and even more questionable allies in his fight to stay alive.

Being ensnared in SynCorp propaganda machine and stirring up public opinion against him, every person he meets might be the one person who identifies him and turns him in for a reward. But yet, even when he takes a chance to try to come out on top, the potential for setbacks exists.

Stacks is extremely resourceful and excels at improvising when faced with a situation he can’t immediately think his way out of. He is also excellent at long-term planning and thinking a few steps of those he’s pursuing or even of those who are pursuing him.

I really enjoyed his shrewdness and intelligence while still trying to make each situation work in his favor. It really made me root for him to succeed, despite his murderous profession. His brilliant ability to escape any situation is uncanny and makes for a highly entertaining and unpredictable read.

He also has a wry sense of humor and a mgsense of snark that made me laugh out loud many times over the course of this novel. His flippant attitude more often gets him trouble more than anything else but wow, it makes for sparkling dialogue and interesting conversations!

The world-building here is spectacular. While also building on previous novels, the universe depicted her is filled with plenty of darkness and corruption. There is the cesspool that is the Darkside of the Moon, the population of Mars, ethically questionable doctors, seedy dive bars, brothels, corrupt officials, plans within plans and hidden motives. Don’t forget the Resistance fighting against corporate oppression and how this factors into the larger picture here. Everyone looking to make a profit off everyone else for their own selfish gain, and that also includes the corporations!

This novel pays homage to hard-boiled noir storytelling that just immerses the reader into the mind of a highly-skilled assassin with a particular code of conduct he holds himself to. Telling the story strictly from his point of view, we experience his thought processes, his plans and his difficulties coping with his Oldtimer’s disease as it becomes progressively worse over the course of the story.

cp-serpentI also sympathized with Stacks as he dealt with this debilitating disease and how it impacted the way he functioned in his exceedingly dangerous profession. How he realized that his greatest weapon is his brain, not his technology or his weapons. But now, his greatest weapon is now crippled by the disease.

Along the way, we also learn more about who he is as a person, the experiences that shaped him and how it ties into the origins of the code of conduct he developed for himself. These are the things that made me sympathize with him as a character.

You feel the ticking clock as Stacks’ life is constantly put in danger and the rapid pace which this novel moves at. With only three days or less to live, I acutely felt each minute of Stacks’ life in real-time as it occurred. Stacks also begins to feel his mortality as he thinks more and more about his place in the universe at large and his fickle relationship with irony.

There is a clever reason that this story is told the way it is, from the first-person point of view. Once I saw where that led, I was even more impressed with the premise and how all tied together into the ending. By the way, that ending was marvelous! Very hardboiled, very noir and extremely unexpected. It even left my jaw on the floor at its audaciousness.

If you’ve read the other SynCorp novels and lp1short stories, there is an enhanced level of enjoyment to be found with how this story connects with those. Since it takes place a few years after the events of “Serpent’s Fury”, where Stacks has a co-starring role, some things in the galaxy have stayed the same and some have changed.

We meet a few of the characters from previous novels here, so it was cool to see them show up here. However, if you haven’t read those novels, this one stands alone and can be enjoyed on its own merits. There’s plenty of context given to the events referenced in those novels so that you won’t get lost.

I would wholeheartedly recommend that you also read the short story called “The Erkennen Job”, which takes place about ten years before this one. There are many direct connections from that story to this one, with characters and situations that inform much of what you see here. It also features Stacks front and center, informing you of everything you need to know about him. It’s highly entertaining. My review for that is further below.

Stacks is my favorite character in the SynCorp Saga novels so to see him take the lead for an entire novel-length story devoted to him was a joy to read.

cw2Overall, this is a fantastic and compulsively readable novel about an assassin who is on the road to retirement but isn’t going willingly into that good night, not without a fight. It’s page-turning science-fiction extravaganza filled with remarkable characters, action-packed adventure, and non-stop excitement.

If you found this review to be helpful to you, please click here to go to the review on Amazon. Then navigate to the bottom of this review and click on the “helpful” button.

Short Story Title: The Erkennen Job: A SynCorp Saga Story – The SynCorp Saga: Empire Earth, Book Zero

AuthorChris Pourteau

Publication Date: July 29, 2019

Available onAmazon as an eBook

Indie Athenaeum Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars

Eugene “Stacks” Fischer is the chief enforcer and assassin for the Taulke Faction, one of the five factions of the Syndicate Corporation. Also known as SynCorp, these five corporations run the galaxy for their own gain: profit. But there is infighting among the different factions, jockeying for power and trying to upset the delicate balance between them.

There are rumors that the Erkennen Faction cp-erkennenis developing a new drug that will help them accomplish this task. Tony Taulke sends Stacks in to investigate, kill the scientist who developed it and grab the technology. But what he finds more of a game-changer than he expects. Will Stacks be able to succeed in his endeavor?

Finding a local Marshal, Glau Darrow, a possible ally who has an idealistic worldview, only complicates the job for Stacks. Since he’s known for his ruthlessness, they make an interesting match. But when her cooperation becomes crucial to completing this job, he forms an uneasy alliance with her to get the job done.

This is a twisty tale of corporate espionage and one man’s attempt to solve a problem for his employer. There are shootouts, surprises, some astounding revelations, and a pulse-pounding finale.

In a society ruled by corporations, Darrow and Stacks make for one fascinating duo. It’s an intriguing contrast of philosophies from one upholder of the law to one who works outside of it. It also makes for crackling dialogue in a world where allegiances shift depending on how much money is at stake.

ht3I read this short story twice now and savored it each time. The first time I did so was back in January 2018 when it was first published and then again recently. I did this not only because I enjoyed it so highly, but it’s also because I knew Stacks would be front and center for an entire novel-length adventure titled “Optional Retirement Plan” and I wanted to refresh my memory of those events.

The reverberations of this short story also impact all the SynCorp Saga novels further down the timeline. It takes place five years before the events in the Empire Earth trilogy. But it especially affects the events in “Optional Retirement Plan” as well, which takes place after that trilogy.

The gritty hardboiled nature of this story, the quick pace and the remarkable revelations made for a fantastic read. It’s one of the author’s most thrilling short stories to date that also happens to be one of the best short stories he’s ever written. Out of all the short stories that I’ve read by the author, Chris Pourteau, this is one of my favorites.

If you found this review to be helpful to you, please click here to go to the review on Amazon. Then navigate to the bottom of this review and click on the “helpful” button.

Previous Indie Athenaeum book reviews about stories co-written by David Bruns & Chris Pourteau include the other novels in The SynCorp Saga: “The Lazarus Protocol“, “Cassandra’s War“, “Valhalla Station“, “Masada’s Gate” and “Serpent’s Fury.”

Other Indie Athenaeum reviews for Chris Pourteau’s short stories, including those published in anthologies, are “Unconditional: A Tale of the Zombie Apocalypse“, “It’s A Bird! It’s A Plane!: A Superhero Anthology“,  and “Bridge Across the Stars – A Sci-Fi Bridge Original Anthology.”

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