Book Review: Automatic Reload by Ferrett Steinmetz
I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating: 3.5 of 5 stars
Genre: Science Fiction
Series: Book 1/Stand Alone
Publisher: Tor Books (July 28, 2020)
Length: 304 pages
After a string of disappointing reads, I was in desperate need of a certain kind of fast-paced, action-packed frivolity—the kind I was certain Ferrett Steinmetz could provide, if my experience with his ‘Mancer series was anything to go on. And I was right. While on the surface, Automatic Reload might have been a novel of pure mindless escapism, it was also the perfect remedy to lift me out of my reading funk.
The story takes place in the near-future, and we are following protagonist Mat, a former soldier turned freelance mercenary who now works the black market. In a world dominated by tech and automation, the more of it you have, the more powerful you are, which makes Mat one of the top dogs in his field, having decked himself out in the most advanced weaponry, replacing his limbs with military-grade armaments.
But the reality is, beneath his more-machine-than-man exterior, Mat’s still a big softie. He’s a professional who will do the job he’s paid to do, but he’ll also try not to cause more pain and death than is necessary, which is tough sometimes, considering the explosive and violent nature of his work. On his latest mission, however, he is tasked to protect a highly valuable asset in transit. As it turns out though, the cargo is actually a woman named Silvia, and she, as Mat soon learns, is not your typical charge. She’s a genetically engineered super assassin, created and ruthlessly experimented on by an unethical shadowy corporation. Recognizing something of himself in her traumatic experiences and torment, Mat makes the choice to rescue her, betraying his employer whose agents will now come at him with everything they’ve got in order to get Silvia back.
What can I say, but Automatic Reload was just plain fun. It’s quirky, it’s adventurous, and the story moves at breakneck speed. There’s also healthy dose of humor, and if you’ve read the author before, you’re probably already familiar with the unabashed geek pride that he shows off in his books. It’s also the perfect sci-fi novel for non-sci-fi fans. If you’ve ever wanted to try cyberpunk but was intimidated by the hard science, emotional gravity and social intricacies of the genre, you should give this one a look. Sure, Steinmetz can sometimes go a little overboard with his descriptions of advanced tech and weaponry (you can tell he’s enthusiastic about both) but on the whole the book is highly accessible with lots of mass appeal. Action, comedy and even romance all find a place in Automatic Reload.
The only trade-off here is the memorability and questionable impact. I believe the narrative intended to do and say a lot more, especially with regards to mental health issues like anxiety, self-esteem and post-traumatic stress disorders. I’ve got to give the book credit for that, though any message it tries to send is somewhat awkward and simplistic in its delivery and is often overshadowed by the unsubtle deluge of geeky pop culture references and movie in-jokes. The romance, albeit sweet, was also a tad flimsy. While they may be delightful and fun, Mat and Silvia are not exactly what I would call deep or multidimensional characters, which is why their love story fell a bit flat. There’s hardly any build-up, with the expectation the two of them were simply meant to be because they made an instant connection. I mean, I get that Steinmetz had to keep things snappy, given that this is more of an action-oriented book, but insta-love in any form just doesn’t really fly with me.
Still, I needed a good escapist book, and I got a good escapist book. At the very least, the enjoyment I got from Automatic Reload was surely worth its few minor hiccups. Ultimately it was a blast to read, even if it could have used a bit more depth, and although its value was mostly in its ability to provide punchy entertainment, I nevertheless found a lot more to it than I expected.