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Martin Sketchley – The Affinity TrapHere's a book I received for review which didn't wholly convince me... The Affinity Trap is, as far as I can establish, Martin Sketchely's first published novel. It's also the first in a trilogy; usually referred to as the 'Delgado' trilogy, although other names are in use, too; apparently the (soon to be released) next book in the series is 'The Destiny Mask'.

The story plays in the mid-near future, where humanity, or at least the part that counts, lives in 'Myson Towers (named after their inventor), which are essentially sealed off environments, sealed against their surrounding constituent riff-raff, not against each other. So the upper class, military, secret service etc have luxury, virtual vacations, space travel, contact with alien cultures etc. The rest of humanity has been left behind, and lives in crumbling dystopian towns, regularly harassed by 'Purifiers' who kill everyone on sight (from the air, or course), or eke out a living in the remaining countryside, and are victimized by army training exercises. So far so classic.
Inhabiting this set-up is Commander Alexander Delgado, long term officer in the 'Structure' section of the secret service. He's been there for a while, and is a left-over from the old days of benevolent General Smythe, who was ousted in some kind of coup by General William Myson (exceedingly wealthy son of the inventor of the Myson Towers), who turned Earth, its politics, science, and military into a wealth-generating behemoth.
And now Delgado is tasked to fly to the Affinity Group (some strange religious conglomerate – we don't learn too much about them) and retrieve a Seriatt 'female' known as Vourniass Lycern Conosq dis fer'n'at (apostrophy alert!), with whom Myson intents to father a child, purely for political (and thus profit) reasons.
Cue James-Bond style secret service shenanigans. And sex. Lots of sex, at least for the first half of the book (yes, it gets better, at least on that front, after a while). Which sets of all kinds of emotions and developments in Delgado, most of which are not desirable from his and/or his employer's perspective. Or from mine.

This attempts to be a story about belonging, about Loyalty, and trust, and character, and the suppression of these in the name of Loyalty. Interesting and important topics in today's world, not only in tomorrow's. And of course it's a story about sex with aliens. A brave move, given how many horrible sex scenes with Aliens (and without, for that matter) have been written before. I'm sad to report that this book does not signal a reversal in that trend. The author tries to instil something properly alien and different into his copulatory activities, but, for me at least, it doesn't work. It's not believable, realistic, erotic, or interesting. Or even properly strange. Oh, and remember kids, sex with aliens is Bestiality, just in case that bothers you.

The story pacing is as uneven as some of the settings this plays in. Most of the Characters are not believable in terms of motivations, reactions to stimuli, and, at least for Delgado, in their internal monolog, where reported. Both language and actions are clichéd, and riddled with platitudes to an almost painful level.
There are many breaks in the logic of the story as well as the consistency of the universe it plays in, and plenty of developments with little or no serious justification. There are also many ends left dangling, or at least kept in store for future books (I seriously doubt this for some of them though).

Example of a point that really riled me: Delgado enters a luxury-resort space station under a fake name, and informs his customer rep who greets him that he's here instead of another guest who has booked a stay. And when said personal holiday rep arrives with the news that the person who booked the thing is actually here now, and not amused, he kills the rep, hides the body, and never ever gets bothered about the whole thing by anyone. His credit chip works, his ID works, nobody comes looking for the booked suite, nobody is missing the rep... it's wrong on so many levels it hurts. But then again, a lot of stories seem to work like that these days. I mentioned James Bond before, didn't I.

The other thing that really bothers me (and it's related) is that there is too much luck and lucky co-incidences involved. Example – Delgado crash-lands his shuttle on the Affinity Group's planet (but nobody notices this, and he escapes with only a cut on his nose). He walks, just per chance, straight to the hill overlooking the installation he's to find, and even before he gets near it a group on jungle retreat – including Lycern, his target - approach. And they all wear ceremonial masks (but he recognises her immediately from the picture he's seen) so it's dead easy to kill a member of the party and take his place. I rest my case.

Overall this feels like a classic pulp SF story, with loads of fluff (EC Tubb comes to mind. Or the Jerry Cornelius series), and with (misguided) aspirations to be more than that. It fails at living up to this, due to the too many conveniently lost threads, too much technical wizardry (Delgado is a veritable McGyver), and too much lazy James-bond style plotting. And due to the sex obsession for at least part of the story.

What is left is a good adventure story, with some rather sweeping Space Opera style flourishes. Whatever it aims beyond this it fails to achieve. Martin Sketchley can write, this is obvious, although his grip on voices, or on group dynamics is not fully developed yet it appears. Overall the book left me indifferent, and the sex is tedious.
All of the above might well improve in the further instalments in this series (it wouldn't be the first time that a weak start lead to a great culmination in an early trilogy), but on the strength of this book I don't think I'll volunteer to check. Sorry.


Title: The Affinity Trap
Series: Alexander Delgado
Series Number: 1/3
Author: Martin Sketchley
Reviewer: Markus
Reviewer URL: http://skating.thierstein.net
Publisher:  Pocket Book/Simon&Schuster
Publisher URL: simonsays.co.uk
Publication Date: 2005
Review Date: 090127
ISBN: 0743468481
Price: UKP 6.99
Pages: 306
Format: Paperback
Topic: SF
Topic: Space Opera


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