Book Title: Gravity City: Flesh and Blood
Author: Artie Cabrera
Publication Date: March 9, 2020
Available on: Amazon as an eBook
Indie Athenaeum Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars
Johnny Rangers is a private detective who’s cultivated a bad reputation with lawbreakers who hide in a technologically enhanced area called Gravity City. This hard-boiled, sci-fi mystery noir mashup starts with Johnny meeting a dame in a bar, picking up an unwanted kid sidekick along the way and investigating a fascinating murder! And how do cyborgs fit into all of this?
This is just the beginning that sparks the entire plot of the novel, filled with robot gangs, crime lords, mega-corporations, corruption, super scientific advancements, virtual reality, superior technology and one man trying to do some good. Can Rangers bring some law and order to a city that doesn’t seem to want it? Or will his crusade lead to loss and heartache to those around him?
Rangers has a surprising backstory filled with family issues and tragedy. This background imbues the character with deeper motivations without being stereotypical. He’s a complicated man whose family is also an unexpected one and they ground him in the gritty reality he lives in. Though he’s not perfect, he believes in justice and doesn’t care how he gets things done as long as it works. He’s a loose cannon but also a beacon of light in the darkness of the city.
Rangers is not the only one who has a colorful history. His fellow cops in Precinct Six also get time to shine as well. Sergeant Finn Samconi also joins Rangers in his quixotic quest but also has problems of his own with his daughter Sarai. Sarai lives on the streets and is involved with some shady characters.
And then there’s Captain Jonas Beta, who runs this group and is trying to fend off corporate interference from above. He has a hidden agenda to right a wrong committed against some of his fellow cops and will do anything to avenge them.
Steeped in the darkness of a city filled with secrets, these side stories weave in and out of the primary tale about Johnny Rangers. It superbly fleshes out this universe and all the festering boils of evil that live in it.
“This guy is like recurring cancer. Every time I think I’m done with him, he comes back.”
It also illustrates how it’s busy, complicated and messy, just like life and especially like life on a frontier planet filled with lawlessness and danger. And, it feels like you can’t trust ANYBODY in Gravity City!
One of the best hard-boiled moments lines in a book filled to bursting with them:
“Stray bullets have no friends”.
It’s a fantastic book with so many interweaving plotlines and connections to other characters. There is a larger cast of characters here than you would suspect. A character mentioned in the first part of the book becomes crucial to understanding how it impacts the plot throughout the course of the novel. It also has severe repercussions for multiple characters as well as the larger underworld of the city and who runs it.
The whole novel is like that. Some characters have a small cameo appearance in the beginning and then takes on much more significance later in the story. Some characters we thought we knew to have a previously unknown history with other characters, showing new layers to them. And other characters have undisclosed connections to the larger plot simmering the background.
Some characters get a quick and unimportant mention or a throwaway line. But then it turns out that it’s something that fleshes out the novel and it’s much more important than you initially thought. That kind of forethought and planning in this novel makes for an extra captivating read.
There were many times where this happened. I had to go back to look at the seemingly throwaway references and saw how it planted an important seed that blooms later in the novel’s narrative.
“…the things these poor nurses had to witness because the city was a goddamn meat grinder left on all day and night.”
Because there’s a lot of different storylines in this novel, you might wonder whether they’re all tied up or not. I’ll tell you that the main plots are tied up but there might be some dangling threads, waiting enticingly for the author to pick up on them in future stories. This is by design, as it’s not done to frustrate the reader. It’s done to flesh out the novel better and illustrate its theme, which I won’t spoil for you here.
I will tell you that it does explicitly share what its theme is in the latter part of the novel as part of a discussion between two people, one of whom had experienced a great loss in the past.
In the middle of all of this, there’s also the ongoing corporate war between Axon Labs and Pantheon Industries plays out in the background as well as the Soulless with their agenda trying to get robot rights who also run a biker gang (!).
As a result, this story is very unpredictable. I never knew which way the story was going to go next, given all the different directions it went in. There are even some characters who were previously thought dead and some of them even get surprising resurrections, sometimes for nefarious reasons.
The final part of the novel and the sheer audacity of its revelations ties all of the action and different characters together in such a cool way, pulling in all the disparate story threads. It then demonstrated to me the pure genius of the tapestry the author wove together. The result was just pure wow!
One of my favorite characters is Rocket, who pulled on my emotional heartstrings, as I empathized with his plight. Rocket is one of the people who activate Johnny Rangers’ emotions. He’s a hard-boiled detective who doesn’t show much emotion, but Rocket also brings out a different side of him.
The author packs more ideas into this one novel than most people put into a trilogy. There’s plenty of material here to inhabit an entire franchise of stories and based on the strength of this novel, I want to read more of them. This novel is about experiencing the expansive universe created here. Rangers appear in much of this novel but it’s not entirely about him, it’s about the entire Gravity City experience.
I’ve read all this author’s short stories and novels before and they are always filled with a real flair for storytelling and a breadth of imagination that few others have. This novel is his best to date, filled with vibrant characters, deep intrigue, non-stop excitement, innovative ideas, and a bold storytelling style.
If you enjoyed this novel, I would also encourage you to check out “Once Upon a Time in Gravity City”, a terrific anthology that lets other authors flesh out this imaginative world more and expand on ideas presented here.
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 short stories written by Artie Cabrera include “The Legends of Boone Ridge“.
Previous Indie Athenaeum book reviews about anthologies published by Artie Cabrera include “Once Upon a Time in Gravity City“.