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The Ultra Thin Man: A Science Fiction Novel [Kindle Edition]

Patrick Swenson

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Book Description

In the twenty-second century, a future in which mortaline wire controls the weather on the settled planets and entire refugee camps drowse in drug-induced slumber, no one--alive or dead, human or alien--is quite what they seem. When terrorists manage to crash Coral, the moon, into its home planet of Ribon, forcing evacuation, it's up to Dave Crowell and Alan Brindos, contract detectives for the Network Intelligence Organization, to solve a case of interplanetary consequences. Crowell' and Brindos's investigation plunges them neck-deep into a conspiracy much more dangerous than anything they could have imagined.

The two detectives soon find themselves separated, chasing opposite leads: Brindos has to hunt down the massive Helkunn alien Terl Plenko, shadow leader of the terrorist Movement of Worlds. Crowell, meanwhile, runs into something far more sinister--an elaborate frame job that puts our heroes on the hook for treason.

In this novel from Patrick Swenson, Crowell and Brindos are forced to fight through the intrigue to discover the depths of an interstellar conspiracy. And to answer the all-important question: Who, and what, is the Ultra Thin Man?

Product Description

About the Author

PATRICK SWENSON began Talebones magazine in 1995, and in 2000 started Fairwood Press, a small SF book press. Ultra Thin Man is his first novel and he is currently working on the sequel.

Product details

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 1114 KB
  • Print Length: 335 pages
  • Publisher: Tor Books (12 Aug. 2014)
  • Sold by: Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B00J6TY31I
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
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  • Word Wise: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #1,046,689 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 3.9 out of 5 stars  16 reviews
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars for me, a great re-introduction to science fiction 12 Aug. 2014
By Sneaky Burrito - Published on
It's been a long time since I read a straight-up science fiction novel. I'd gone for quite awhile avoiding sci-fi because I can't suspend disbelief when it comes to science (that's what you get for having more than a decade's worth of formal science education, I suppose). But, I'd read a couple of sci-fi short story collections from Tor at the end of last year/beginning of this year and I decided I was ready to jump back in. Turns out, this was exactly the right book for me to start with. I enjoyed it a lot.

First off, a bit of discussion about the type of book this is. Having been away from the science fiction genre for a long while, I'm not really up-to-date with all the sub-genre descriptions. What you get with THE ULTRA THIN MAN is a not-too-distant future world where Earth is still recognizable as Earth, but where humans have colonized other worlds, as well. There are two sentient, basically humanoid species of aliens -- Helks and Memors. Helks are big and strong and sometimes antagonistic towards humans, although not universally so. There are not too many Memors in this book, and none who are main characters. However, we get the sense that human/Memor relations are pretty harmonious -- Memors are the ones who gave humans the technology to jump through space to distant locations. (The whole set-up is reminiscent of the television series Babylon 5 in a number of ways. I'm not complaining about that, though. Thinking about it that way gave me a good framework for understanding what was going on.)

There's a Union of planets -- with a President -- and a Movement dedicated to breaking up that Union, although we learn pretty quickly that things are not as they seem. While there's a definite political plot, we don't experience the points of view of any higher-ups. Instead, we follow along in alternating chapters with two human intelligence contractors, Dave Crowell (first person) and Alan Brindos (third person), as they investigate the Movement. While both Crowell and Brindos are sympathetic, perhaps because they're the POV characters and also somewhat because of the situation in which they find themselves later in the book, they don't have a ton of depth. We learn a little about their backgrounds but most of the thoughts we're privy to are focused on their respective missions. Supporting characters included Terl Plenko (a Helk associated with the Movement), Dorie Senall (a drug-addicted human woman), Jennifer Lisle (a human intelligence agent), Tem Forno (another Helk), and several others. Of these, I was pleasantly surprised with the depth of both Terl Plenko and Dorie Senall, which I thought was well-done, especially for non-POV characters. The cast was small enough to keep straight, despite the fact that the plot spanned at least four different planets.

I wouldn't call this a character-focused novel; rather, it has more of a noir/detective style mixed with a bit of a political/spy thriller that just happened to be set in a future where space travel was possible. It was very easy (and fun) to read. The language sat back and did its job -- that is, telling the story -- without interfering, and I never read anything that broke immersion. As a reader, I wasn't beaten over the head with new terminology, and after a bit of a hitch at the beginning (likely due to my lack of recent sci-fi reading experience), everything flowed quite smoothly. Maybe a third of the way in, the pace picked up quite a bit and I started making time to read this in hour-plus long stretches because I wanted to see how it ended.

The setting and world-building were believable. Earth still seemed like Earth. Other human-settled planets also seemed a lot like Earth, though perhaps with less development. That makes sense, though, since humans colonizing a planet would bring ideas, designs, and technologies from home with them. Some things were a bit old-fashioned (lots of use of paper money even in the 22nd century) and others didn't seem too far off from what we see now (personal cards that acted a lot like smart phones; magazines and newspapers that downloaded new daily versions, which is something an e-reader or tablet could do easily). These aspects were not really the stars of the story, either, but in the big picture, they worked.

Regarding the science, most of it wasn't explained, nor were attempts made to explain things. I honestly prefer it this way. I start to lose interest when writers try to go too into depth with scientific explanations, mostly because I start finding holes. Here, that wasn't a problem. "Alien technology" explained a lot of it, and since the protagonists were not, themselves, scientists, they looked at things on the level of depth as, say, a magazine intended for a popular audience would. The only (minor) quibble I have here is that a new metal called "metaline" is mentioned, and there's not a place in the periodic table for such an element. All of the new metals actual scientists are discovering these days are highly unstable and decay in a matter of nanoseconds (or less) in particle accelerators. But, it's one small thing in a book I enjoyed, overall, so I'll let that pass.

Another strength of this book was that the danger the characters faced was real. People they thought they knew (or knew of) were not always who or what they seemed. It was difficult to tell whom to trust. I was definitely not able to predict the ending (although some seeds were planted early so it didn't come out of nowhere), and I think that's a good thing (even though there was a little sadness involved). I love it when books don't take the expected course. For me, this was a plot-focused novel, but I think all the various aspects worked well together.

I've tried to be vague here to avoid giving away spoilers (one could argue that the book description on Amazon contains several spoilers), but all-in-all, I had a great time reading this book. It works as a standalone but the author left himself room for sequels or other stories/books set in the same world -- which I would definitely read. If you read a lot of science fiction, you'll undoubtedly find some familiar elements. If you don't read a lot of science fiction, you'll find this pretty easy to pick up. Overall, I found this pretty enjoyable and am glad I gave it a try.

Review copy provided by the publisher.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Not quite the Thin Man in Space, but a fun S/F thriller 18 Aug. 2014
By M. P. Cummings - Published on
Format:Kindle Edition
Let me first dissuade you - if you want to read this book because you expect Nick, Nora, and Asta to make an appearance, this isn’t that kind of Thin Man. Nor is this “Gumshoe - In Space!” - not quite. There is a certain homage to Dashiell Hammett in this novel, a flair of the noir in its tongue in cheek references to fedoras and trenchcoats, private investigators, and hunting down criminal masterminds in modern speakeasies. It is very much a science fiction novel, though, of that variety of thriller that was popular at the end of the pulp era. Good guys vs bad, agents on the run and the fate of society in their hands.

Set nearly a century away, humanity has made contact with two other sentient species, acquired FTL travel, and colonized other planets. A political movement has risen up that threatens the peace of the Union, and our two gumshoes, hired on as contractors by a government agency, are trying to track down the location of the leader of the Movement, the alien Helk known as Terl Plenko. Things go from bad to worse when a terrorist attack causes the moon Ribon to crash into the planet it orbits, destroying settlements on both worlds.

The mystery is light, but the tension is kept steady in this science fiction thriller. What may cause some issues for some readers is the disorienting switch in POV between chapters. The novel is written from the perspective of our two chief protagonists, but only one of them is in the first person. The other character’s story is written loosely in the third person. In the ARC, this perspective slipped a few times, and I really hope this is an artifact of the pre-edit condition of the novel and not something that made it to print. Because without that detraction, the novel was a lot of fun, fully earning the four stars I’ve given it. Although the post-climax epilogue ties off some threads while ignoring others, I think that’s just Swenson hedging his bets. I’m sure this volume will do well enough to garner more gumshoe stories set in his Union universe.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great read recommended for most sci-fi readers 8 Oct. 2014
By Bradley A Kohn Jr - Published on
I enjoyed Ultra Thin Man for the following reasons:

- Great story that unfolded at a measured pace
- Interesting universe that was futuristic without being completely without modern reference points
- Engaging characters that you felt invested in relatively quickly in

My only non-positive take-aways that keep me from giving 5 stars:

- The pre-existing 'bad guys' the government is chasing seems very vague and the name 'The Movement' just reinforces this
- The motivations of the villains are never explored, and the motivations of their henchmen seems pretty weak
- The main premise (trying really hard not to spoil) makes character identification challenging at times "I am Plenko!"

All in all a very good read and I recommend it to anyone who enjoys a good 'hard' sci-fi that doesn't get too deep into technology-porn.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Ultra Nick Charles? Sadly, no. 9 Sept. 2014
By TChris - Published on
Although The Ultra Thin Man does feature two detectives, Dashiell Hammett this isn't. Neither Patrick Swenson's unremarkable prose nor the plot of his science fiction mystery excited me. While I would not condemn The Ultra Thin Man as a bad novel, there are so many sf mysteries more worthy of attention that I cannot recommend this one.

The Union consists of human and alien worlds. The two nonhuman members of the Union are the Memor (good aliens that gave humans the technology to travel between worlds) and the Helk (unfriendly aliens that apparently resemble bald-headed wookies). Ribon is the largest world in the Union, but any human colonists on the planet who are unable to flee will soon be wiped out by Ribon's moon, which is fragmenting as the result of antimatter explosions.

Former private investigators David Crowell and Alan Brindos are now under contract to the Network Intelligence Organization. Their primary concern is the Movement of Worlds and its Helk leader, Terl Plenko. They suspect that Plenko is responsible for the destruction of Ribon's moon and other mayhem. While Brindos goes off in search of Plenko, Crowell discovers that bad guys within the NIO are setting him up for a fall.

The plot centers upon an ultra thin wire that allows a combination of particle acceleration and nanotechnology to do something (I won't say what) to life forms. Brindos experiences the effects of this technology in ways that are probably meant to add excitement to the plot. Unfortunately, Brindos is such an empty character I didn't care what happened to him. The novel's title notwithstanding, he's no Ultra Nick Charles. Crowell, who narrates half the chapters in the first person, is equally devoid of personality. We don't see much of the reclusive Memor but the Helk we encounter do not seem any more alien than a typical All Star Wrestler.

I don't want to describe the plot since it is so dependent upon surprises. Suffice it to say that the convoluted conspiracy did not engage me. The novel lacks dramatic tension but it does contain a fair amount of action and it moves at a brisk pace. Had the characters been better, perhaps I would have found the plot more involving, if not convincing.

A hundred years in the future, are people going to be saying "I needed to stay on the down low?" I doubt it. I'm not sure how many people still use that expression today. That's only one example of a writer who didn't give enough thought to his prose. Swenson's writing style isn't awful by any means, but it too often lacks polish. The epilog seems to set up the possibility of a sequel but nothing about this novel tempts me to read the next one.
3.0 out of 5 stars disappointing, but shows promise 11 Oct. 2014
By B. Capossere - Published on
Format:Kindle Edition
I have to admit that some times I hate reviewing first-time novels. Not those first-time novels where you can't believe this was a first foray into novel writing and not the product of an experienced author using a pen name. And not those first-time novels where you can't believe no one--an editor, a reading group, a spouse--suggested that perhaps the book wasn't quite ready for prime time (or late, late night even). And certainly not those first novels that are so painfully, obviously trying to cash in on an ongoing publishing trend. No, I hate reviewing those first time novels where the author is utterly sincere and earnest, has a good idea, has created some interesting characters, and shows some real promise for the future, but just isn't quite there yet. When every criticism feels like an undeserved punch in the gut to some nice-seeming stranger you just passed on the street. So apologies ahead of time to Patrick Swenson, who seems like a nice guy, has come up with a nice idea, but hasn't quite nailed the execution yet. Though his debut novel, The Ultra Thin Man, shows enough that I'd like to see what comes next from Swenson's pen (OK, probably his laptop).

The Ultra Thin Man is a noir-ish science fiction story set in a future where humanity, thanks to the gift of interstellar jump technology from an alien race (the Memors), has colonized a group of planets currently held together in a federation called the Union. Not everyone is enamored of such a tightly-knit organization, though, and so a terrorist group--The Movement--has turned to violence in an attempt to provoke the eight planets into declaring independence. The leader of The Movement, Terl Plenko, is a Helk, the only other alien race humans have encountered, and as the novel opens, Plenko is being hunted by the Union's security organization--the NIO.

The novel alternates chapters between Dave Crowell and Alan Brindos, two former PI partners who have sub-contracted to the NIO. Crowell's chapters are in first-person, Brindos' in third person, with each having his own set of adventures on different planets. Their manhunt soon leads them into a much larger, much more complicated, and much more dangerous world than either had expected. To say any more about the plot would ruin the twists and turns.

To begin with the positives, I'm a sucker for noir, and so when I get a title with the words "Thin Man," which of course calls up the wonderful William Powell and Myrna Loy, and that begins with a first-person account by a private investigator telling me, "They said Dorie Senall deliberately killed herself, but I doubted the truth of that," well, I'm ready to fall like a dyed blonde on high heels cradling her fourth martini. So in my mind, Swenson has chosen well in his form.

I also am a fan of multiple POVs, and I enjoyed the added variety of having one POV in first-person and one in third. Swenson did a good job as well in distinguishing the two major voices, as well as giving each half of the story a different tone and vibe. Somewhat ironically, the third-person Brindos section was I thought the most intimate, more focused on character, while the first-person Crowell section was more removed and more action oriented. A nice touch of the unexpected.

The thematic focus (one of them at least) on identity was also appreciated, lending the novel a sense of depth beyond the action elements, though again, I can't say much more so as not to spoil the plot. Dialogue overall was mixed, but at times Swenson shows a real knack for it, particularly in the interaction between Crowell and a Helk security agent. Their relationship and times together were actually my favorite parts of the novel.
Finally, I want to give credit to Swenson for at least one aspect of his ending, which displays a courage that I wish more authors showed. I wish I could say more, but giving away an event at the close of a mystery is rarely a good move in a review.

As for the negatives, they tend to be those one might expect from a debut novel. Some clumsiness and clunkiness in the prose and the worldbuilding, though these issues appear more frequently at the start and though they never wholly disappear, they do diminish past the first few chapters. There are some head-scratching lines and moments, as when Crowell is pretty sure an intruder, potential attacker, is about to enter the room but he chooses several other actions before reaching for his weapon or when a scene of utter devastation doesn't seem to accord with the casualties given, or where it was hard to buy Crowell not recognizing someone. There were enough of these to become noticeable and thus become not merely a distraction, but a detraction as well. Outside of Brindos, the characterization was relatively non-descript, a word I'd use as well for the plotting and the style. None of these were bad--characters were believable and likable enough, the style serviceable, the plot moved along--but then, none of them stood out as particularly striking or original. The plot for instance makes use of some well-trod tropes that I would have liked to see them used more freshly.

In the end, The Ultra Thin Man, was disappointing, but never to the point where I considered not finishing it. And the novel shows enough promise, enough flashes of wit and originality and facility with dialogue that one has to hope Swenson has a second novel in him. In fact, The Ultra Thin Man ends in a way that allows for further adventures with these characters and I would be interested to see how further honing of his craft might improve a second engagement in this world.
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