Crusader is the best assassin the Church has, carrying out all his missions with heartless thoroughness. He is intelligent and methodical in his work, his skills well-honed. And he’s numb. No pain can stop him, no emotions can get in his way.
Until he is assigned a new victim and, for reasons he doesn’t understand, he can’t kill her.
Numb is a science fiction novel written by John Otte and published by Marcher Lord Press. The various technological trappings of the story give it a feel of classic blaster-and-spaceships sci-fi. I loved the idea of the space stations and of the Ceres colonizers. The abandoned Waystation was particularly evocative, giving me a feeling of how vast space is and how very easy for even large things to get lost.
The world-building showed some very nice touches; the cube-shaped New Jerusalem Station is one of them, but my favorite is this comment, delivered by one of the novel’s protagonists: “Tell me, did the earliest Christians arm themselves when the Emperor Nero trundled them off to the Vatican hippodrome as arsonists?”
This is a clever blending of fact (Nero’s scapegoating of Christians for the burning of Rome) with error (“the Vatican hippodrome”?). Time blurs history, and I enjoyed seeing that acted out in Numb. I appreciated that Otte in no way pointed out the confusion of facts, trusting his readers to catch it on their own.
The oblique reference to the Catholic Church was also interesting. The True Church is essentially a speculative version of the pre-Reformation Catholic Church, transplanted from the Middle Ages to outer space. You could list the discrepancies between the True Church and even the medieval Catholic Church, but it still mirrors the Roman church in its political intrigue, persecution of heretics, and attempted subjugation of infidels. Alongside this, names like Inquisitor and Crusader and the Cathedral of Light are only superficial similarities.
If I had to name one fault of this book, it would be that characters’ actions didn’t always logically follow their motivations. It happened rarely, and even then was usually minor. One character, for example, showed himself wary of certain visitors to his installation but then casually shared vital information about the place.
In one place, however, it wasn’t minor. Reason would caution against helping, and then falling for, a bloody-handed assassin, especially one who had been assigned to kill you. But that’s what Isolda did. I think her decisions could have been justified, but she made them too quickly and with too little explanation.
Numb is a fast-paced story that takes surprising turns and, in it all, leaves space to the characters, through whom the novel gains emotional power. Add an intriguing framework built from the history of our past and theories of our future, and Numb establishes itself as a winning piece of sci-fi.
In conjunction with the CSFF Blog Tour, I received a free copy of this book from the publisher.