Novella Review: Hard Reboot by Django Wexler
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: Stand Alone
Publisher: Tordotcom (May 25, 2021)
Length: 160 pages
Hard Reboot is an action-packed story about tough women and giant robots from one of my favorite authors, but after finishing it, I was left with this nagging feeling of wanting more. To be fair, the meager page count might have a lot to do with this, as I’m the type of reader who seldom finds satisfaction with the restrictive length of a typical novella.
The book opens, readers are introduced to scholar Zychtykas Three, or “Kas” to her friends, who has just arrived on Old Earth as part of an academic undertaking. Almost immediately, she finds herself scammed of her academy funds by a local robot pilot named Zhi Zero, who thinks all off-worlders are loaded with cash. Truth is though, Kas is completely broke, and she’ll ever get a chance in academia again if her expedition leaders think she’s gambled away all their money. Left with no other choice, she is forced to go after Zhi and work out a deal.
However, Zhi is in over her head with her own troubles, and has lost one bot fight too many. She’s also about to lose the one thing she has left—until Kas tracks her to a secret hideout under the city, where the pilot has been trying to restore a salvaged Third Empire warbot. An expert in ancient technology and code, Kas becomes fascinated with the discovery, and convinces Zhi into a partnership where she’ll fund the restoration of the warbot if the other woman will take it into battle and secure the winner’s purse. Of course, but there’s just one big problem: with the entire plan resting on money that neither women really have, failure is not an option.
Hard Reboot really isn’t a bad book, considering it’s so short. The problem, I think, is that it tries to do too much. I can’t help but feel that, had this been a Pacific Rim-type tale packed with mecha melees, it might have wound up being a shallower read, sure, but it likely would’ve delivered a punchier and more entertaining experience. It’s when certain elements are neither here nor there, though, I just find it very difficult to connect with both characters and story.
Still, I love Django Wexler’s writing. When he’s writing full-length epic fantasy, that’s when I think he’s at his best, but he’s shown again and again the versatility of his talent, and any book of his is a joy to read. It’s another reason why I regret Hard Reboot being so short, because I would have loved to get to know the characters a bit more. Kas was an engaging protagonist, and I enjoyed reading about her origins as an off-world third-wave colonist, but would have loved to learn more about her actual personality which was rather lacking. Same goes for Zhi, with her more volatile upbringing and love for her warbot, but these are relatively surface-level traits when I would have preferred the character development to go further in-depth. That probably would have also helped me feel more invested in the eventual romance between the two and not make it feel as tacked-on.
World-building was solid too, and might be the one aspect I thought was perfectly balanced—just enough to convey a vivid picture of the setting without overwhelming readers with information. The Old World doesn’t seem like a very nice place, and as the situation unfolds with both Kas and Zhi, we are shown the importance of hereditary status and wealth in this environment—that is, it’s tough when you have neither.
At the end of the day, the main weakness was the characters, and emotionally I don’t think I cared about them as much as I should have, making their romance a bit of a bust. In my opinion a friendship would have worked a lot better, with more character development in place of, say, all the forced dialogue between the women about wanting to jump each other’s bones. The ending was also a bit rushed and predictable, but again, somewhat expected given the limited page length of a novella.
All in all, despite its flaws, Hard Reboot was a fun read, with a decent storyline and a world that was imaginative and compelling. After all, you really can’t go too wrong with a quick, bite-sized standalone with giant robots, can you?