DiscoverScience Fiction

Man O'War

By Dan Jones

Worth reading 😎

This well written book reflects on the relationship between robots and humans, as well as lucrative power vs the disadvantaged people.

Synopsis

Struggling jellyfisherman Dhiraj Om is praying for a good catch to make ends meet. So when a valuable pleasure robot called Naomi is caught in his nets, he senses the opportunity for a quick profit.

But Naomi's owner, the brutal gangster Agarkka D'Souza, doesn't take kindly to his property being taken. Dhiraj's illicit deal thrusts him into a web of sex, violence and corruption stretching from London's seedy underworld to the Niger Delta. There, oil barons wage bitter war against Marxist dissidents, and Dhiraj and Naomi are hurled into violence. Can Dhiraj save not only himself, but Naomi, who has become not only his protector and his curse, but possibly something more?

A savage, electrifying debut, Man O'War is a taut science-fiction thriller set in a near future where technology, humanity and violence collide.

Dan Jones’ debut novel is a well-crafted story dealing with prevalent posthumanist ideas that are delved into through a finely built futuristic world, reaching from corporate politics to mobsters and the downtrodden civilian. The story is introduced when a jellyfisherman named Dhiraj finds a hapless sex robot in his catch (denominated as kokeshi), and upon attempting to return it to a nightclub owner, is spun into a high strung, all-on-the-line corporate battle focused on attempting to legalize kokeshi and bring down the underground sex industry, at the same time commenting on the power play between highly lucrative companies and extremist opposition.   


The story is told through several different characters, which provides an all-around view on the ideas that are being polemicized. Jones presents insightful new gadgets and technology within the first chapters of the book, including some side commentary on modern ecological ruin and an interesting futuristic use of biospheres. Man O’ War is set in London, Lyon, and Port Harcourt and while the setting is constantly changing, an all-encompassing sense of apocalypse and dystopia is interestingly accomplished. There is a single mention of the exact year in which the story occurs, which cleverly does not fall into the typical Blade Runner blunder of implausibility through proximity.


The many characters involved allows for a discussion on humanoid AI and their possible roles in society; in this case, from sexual to emotional companionship and protection. There’s also a loosely oriented commentary on the meaning of gender, that is most of the time a little too black and white. The pervasive rudimentary idea regarding gender and sex is that “womanhood” and “manhood” are basically tied to the idea of sex, and not only that, but of having a partner in the case of women. A kokeshi (from two different female characters’ point of view) is therefore a replacement for women and a threat to be reckoned with. This idea is by far too fragile, basic, and objectionable to be considered as an asset to the overall storytelling. The main kokeshi in the story, Naomi, also comes across as having a rather cliché robot personality. Some other depicted relationships lack work and also present themselves as cliché, such as the father-son relationship introduced early on.


Jones’ writing starts off as well structured, with plenty of imagery and fleeting reflections that add background to the characters and display a full awareness of the uncanny valley experienced by both characters and reader. He also shifts adjectives in elegant manipulation of description of the scene according to the mood and character which makes the book interesting and pleasant to read. However, towards the middle of the novel the structure of the story rather than the writing itself starts to get a bit sloppy. Unfortunately, important scenes are construed unconvincingly and some unimportant connections within the frame of the storyline are unclear. Now and then Jones also slips into the annoying habit of unnecessary explanation. The ending of the novel was written with considerably less effort than the beginning, and it shows. It is unfortunate considering how smoothly it could have all been put together, but instead the story turns incongruous and erratic.


Man O’ War shows great potential and Dan Jones has many ideas to share and develop with the curious sci-fi reader. His writing is skilled and eloquent at the best of times, and his book is very well suited as an introduction to posthuman fiction. The failings of the story do bring down several notches the quality of the ideas that are being exploited, but overall it presents a very unique dystopia that still fascinates and contributes in its own way to the genre. Hopefully Dan Jones will continue to write.   



Reviewed by

A literature postgraduate. I'm very passionate about all kinds of literature and film. I enjoy editing, reading, and writing creative and informative content to the best of my abilities. Originality, vision, insight, and entertainment are priorities for me. #Scifi, #travelogues, and #earlymodern

Synopsis

Struggling jellyfisherman Dhiraj Om is praying for a good catch to make ends meet. So when a valuable pleasure robot called Naomi is caught in his nets, he senses the opportunity for a quick profit.

But Naomi's owner, the brutal gangster Agarkka D'Souza, doesn't take kindly to his property being taken. Dhiraj's illicit deal thrusts him into a web of sex, violence and corruption stretching from London's seedy underworld to the Niger Delta. There, oil barons wage bitter war against Marxist dissidents, and Dhiraj and Naomi are hurled into violence. Can Dhiraj save not only himself, but Naomi, who has become not only his protector and his curse, but possibly something more?

A savage, electrifying debut, Man O'War is a taut science-fiction thriller set in a near future where technology, humanity and violence collide.

Dhiraj I

Dhiraj knew the rain stopped this distance from the coast, but it still made him uneasy. It wasn't natural to be without the rain. He grunted a command to the Navigation of his seine skiff The Lion's Mane to slow down, and the throttle obediently clanked down to a low rumble, slowing the boat to a crawl.

"Come on, babies," he said, peering over dark ocean waves. "I need a good catch tonight."

The thought tightened his throat; he needed this badly now. The prospect of telling his family about another crappy haul made him grit his teeth and focus. Even in the wheelhouse he was soaked, and wiped the greasy sleeve of his raincoat across his face. Darkness turned its garish yellow into mustard. Once the boat halted he called to the floodlights, which swung portside and bathed the water in electric moonlight. As he stepped outside of the wheelhouse the North Sea's cold whip lashed his face, taking the breath from him, but he bore it, looking upon the horizon. Even under the floodlight, he couldn't see the purse seine net, but he imagined it swelling with bounty just beneath the surface. He smiled in spite of the cold; no, because of the cold. Cold brought them swarming. Just a little luck, and he'd be bringing a bumper harvest home tonight. He clenched his fists in anticipation as he traversed the deck.

The rope bobbing on the sea, almost invisible in this blinding blackness, marked his offshore empire. He hoped upon hope that tonight it wouldn't be a fallow one. He headed aft and threw his weight behind the power block lever, cranking it into life. Somewhere out of sight it wheezed and creaked, dragging the chain back inside the hull, closing the dragnet. Odd spots of rain floated in the air, reassuring him of the shoreline's presence somewhere beyond his eyeline.

It was a few minutes before the bounty began to show. Dhiraj grinned. Not everyone could see the little beauties at first, but his was a trained eye. The slightest trace of a tiny light blue shadow quivered below the water's break. Then another. Another. Soon hundreds, then thousands of the little jellyfish shadows throbbed ever so gently with the thrum and swim of the current, and he laughed, clapping his hands in a jubilant jig.

"Yes!" he cried to the jellyfish. "I'll be sending you to a very loving home tonight."

Still smiling, he called to the power block to stop winding up the dragnet, leaving the jellyfish bobbing up and down agreeably like a gigantic Christmas bauble. All his.

Back in the wheelhouse he started talking to the navigation system to head for port when he took another glimpse at the taut dragnet under lights. His smile wilted.

"Shit." A crumpled piece of plastic poked above the waterline, caught by the net. Could be a plastic bag. Murderous bloody things, he thought. He instinctively placed his hand to his side, where the sting scars riddled his ribs. Bound to be something poisonous in it with my luck. He punched the console and threw the throttle back into neutral with his hands. Nothing for it; it'd have to be dragged out by hand, in case it contained anything hazardous; any contaminant and the whole catch would be worthless, and that'd be another night wasted.

Once on deck he released the dragnet a tad, slid the stepladder along the gunwale, grabbed a pole hook and climbed over. The sea splashed around his ankles, and the blue shadows lapped at his thick black boots like pet dogs. He reached out, straining, and hooked the bag. He yanked it towards him, but its weight almost hauled him into the water instead. Bloody hell. If there was one thing worse than a plastic bag, it was a full one. God knows what was in it. Cursing anew, he hooked his elbow around the stepladder rung for greater stability and reached again. This time he gave it a firm pull with the hook, and the little finger of material started to rotate and rise to the surface: first a small, crinkly triangle, then bigger. Not a disposable plastic bag; thicker than that; a vacuum-packed bag, large, getting larger as the material bobbed to the surface, pushing the blue moon jellies out of the way, eager to break the surface. He saw something white and translucent inside, difficult to discern amongst the waves and jellies, but then it spun about quickly, catching the glare of the floodlight.

When the face emerged from the water enclosed in the plastic Dhiraj cried so loudly he shocked himself, grabbing the ladder tightly with both hands and dropping the pole in the water with a limp splash. He was shivering, and his eyes were blurred with water. He pressed his forehead to the freezing cold of The Lion's Mane's hull and closed his eyes. When he opened them, the ship was still there. He turned his head to the water and breathed slowly, trying to slow his heartbeat.

Shit. Shit shit shit.

The body was still there, serene and ghostly over the bioluminescence of the moon jellies, partially obscured by the glare of the floodlight bouncing off the plastic wrapping. His breathing had calmed now. He hadn't seen a dead body since his Aunt Kiri's funeral, but back then the sullen teenager in him had been repulsed by the rituals, the flowers, the incense, his aunt's puffy body, shiny with exuberantly applied makeup, and the whole damn need to structure something so profound as human grief. He didn't feel that way now. To his great surprise, he found himself muttering, "Supreme light, lead us from truth to untruth, from darkness to light and from death to immortality." He probably hadn't said the words since that very funeral as Aunt Kiri was consumed by the crematorium's fire. But Aunt Kiri had died of a heart attack – too much ghee and whiskey – whereas who could say what had happened to this poor wretch, wrapped up in plastic and dumped in the sea? The wrongness of it all hit him about the head like a jackhammer, over and over.

Dhiraj shook the whys and wherefores away. He couldn't think about how it had got there, or who might be responsible. That wasn't his problem. His job was to fish it out, and hope his catch wasn't too contaminated. The body had rolled onto its front, its nakedness obvious yet indistinct. He stepped down into the water, picked up the pole and reached across to the body. His hands still trembled, but he mastered his apprehension, and after a few attempts the body was within touching distance. As he pulled it close and lifted the head out of the water, his distaste lessened somewhat. A woman. Her face was calm, peaceful even. She didn't look distressed, or as though she had suffered any violence.  Almost looked asleep, melting Dhiraj's fears away.

But when she opened its eyes Dhiraj screamed, lost his grip, and the sea greeted him with an icy kiss.



About the author

Dan Jones works at the UK Space Agency developing robotics tech for next-generation space missions. Which is pretty handy when coming up with SF ideas. Over the years he has fronted a heavy metal band, was top scorer for his five-a-side football team, and has made his own wine. Which was awful. view profile

Published on March 01, 2018

Published by Snowbooks

100000 words

Contains explicit content ⚠️

Worked with a Reedsy professional 🏆

Genre: Science Fiction

Reviewed by

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