There is something of a rulebook when it comes to writing great science fiction, which is strange when you consider that no two examples of the genre are that much alike. Often SF deals with themes such as the effects of technology upon the world, or visitors from other worlds, or even superhumans. In all cases there are often similar themes of moral ambiguity, or the exposition of man’s attempt to push themselves beyond the everyday. That’s why it’s rather refreshing when an author like Kieran Shea takes the rule book and throws it out the window to write his own story with his own unique heroine in Koko Martstellar.
Following on almost immediately from Martstellar’s previous outing in Koko Takes a Holiday, Koko and her lover Flynn find themselves on the run from top assassin Wire, who is seeking to collect on a bounty on the former’s head. The pursuit leads Koko and Flynn to escape the Sixty Islands and find themselves on the mainland in a cult-like community headed up by the mysterious Sébastian Maxx and Dr Korella.
As if that wasn’t enough to contend with, the small community hides a secret of its own, and is under threat from de-civs – an underdeveloped race of humans that are marshalling on their borders – all while Wire continues to dog their steps. What follows is a bloody, brutal and rip-roaring adventure that will have you hooked until the last few pages.
Koko the Mighty does a lot of things right and author Shea should be proud of the spectacle he has created with his work. The setting itself is dark and shares a lot in common with dystopian fiction, and yet the familiar sense of dread is replaced by humour, and over-the-top action and gore worthy of a Tarantino opus.
This bombastic view of the future is a terrific contrast to traditional interpretations of the genre which somehow balance in such a way as to be both lighthearted and ultraviolent, taking the reader along as a passive observer in a blood-soaked romp.
Koko herself is not your traditional heroine either. Foul-mouthed, occasionally drunk, and running a brothel in a violent island paradise, she would seem more akin to traditional views of sci-fi villainy. Indeed her past as a mercenary and soldier, and her present as a self interested cynic, add to this idea that Koko is not really meant to be a hero.
That said, thanks to Shea’s treatment, Martstellar is a protagonist to be envied, whip smart, daring and truly deserving of the title. My one complaint is that her romantic storyline here feels a little too tacked on to really make an impact, and while it is meant to show a softness really only shows how love can make even smart girls stupid.
Flynn for his part remains the slightly dour dude in distress, but he comes into his own a bit more as the story progresses, revealing a few more layers to a character we almost dismissed as one-note. There was also some good work done with Wire, and Sébastian though it was hard to really empaphise or connect with them as they did rely more on the stereotypes of traditional humourless villains.
The problem with Koko the Mighty is not so much with the premise or even with the protagonist or setting. Indeed many of the flaws of this book are systemic, owing to its place in a presumed trilogy, and overly convenient plot twists. This sequel story picks up immediately after the previous story finished, but there is no real attempt to play catch-up, meaning someone who picks this book up first has no real context for the action.
Similarly, the arrival at the isolated commonage as a plot trope, while not uncommon in this field of literature, feels too much like bad luck and comes across as divorced from the characters’ motivations. While this helps ramp up the action, especially with the mounting tension from invading de-civs and assassin Wire still at their heels, it leaves Koko and Flynn feeling like they don’t have any control.
Finally, and perhaps fatally, there is such an obvious cliffhanger at the book’s conclusion that it made me feel like the story has the reader in a holding pattern without letting us land at our final destination.
While these flaws were distracting at times, we found that there is something in this book that we don’t often get to see – simply put: fun. Shea has created a bombastic world of humour, blood, sex and guns and we could not help but be hooked. With action, comedy, clever and sexy characters, and more violence than an 80s action movie, Koko The Mighty is a tremendous romp.
We are eagerly awaiting the next instalment to see where Koko Martstellar takes us next in her violent cavalcade of misadventures.
Koko the Mighty is out now and you can get it from Amazon and iBooks