Riders are aliens that arrived on Earth during the Bronze Age. Since then they have found a way to develop a parasitic relationship with humanity, referring to those they infect as Steeds. Riders can live an almost immortal existence by transferring themselves from Steed to Steed throughout the centuries. Successful Riders become Elders, developing increased abilities and control over not only their Steeds but humans in general through sophisticated use of pheromones and telepathy. As such, Riders have shaped the course of human history in numerous ways unknown to the masses.
Riders have not remained invisible to humanity. A ruthless agency has formed – the Acme Group – with the singular goal of seeking out and eradicating the Riders. The Specimen is the story of one such Rider, his history/search for Steeds, and Acme’s influence.
The Specimen follows a fairly basic, known sci-fi trope: aliens come to Earth; colonization occurs (this time parasitically); secret organization fights back; general populace becomes unwittingly involved. The narrative flowed well enough, the characters (especially the Schrödinger’s Curiosities crew) were interesting enough, and the story had enough nuance to keep the reader engaged throughout. Dr. Eckenrode, Dr. Coe’s notes, and the Acme training manuals added depth to the story, effectively filled in the back story, and added just the right amount of variation to the narrative without becoming a distraction.
My main complaint about the book can be summed up with a single phrase: overly complicated. This was a pervasive problem through the book.
– the flow of the story was interrupted by repeated, non-linear jumps through history; the interludes told during these jumps were often undeveloped and felt incomplete and/or not clearly connected to the main story
– the author tried to tell too many stories in one book; focusing on the Rider, his history with Acme, and his renewal would have made for a stronger story and allowed for a smaller cast of characters and a tighter, more engaging relationship between those characters and the reader
– the cast of characters is so varied and many characters have such minor rolls that the author felt compelled to include a cast of characters at the beginning of the book in order for the reader to be able to keep track
– unnecessary, often unpleasant, side stories are woven throughout the story; the back-stories of the Acme operatives are especially graphic, unsettling, and do not add to the main story line in any way
– instead of ending the story the author includes an epilogue introducing brand new elements to the Rider history and concludes the book with the words “TO BE CONTINUED”
The book would have been more enjoyable if I had been able to focus on the main story without all of the unnecessary jumps in time/narrative/character/location. Within the book there is a solid, interesting story with key characters. I would have liked to read that story and gotten to know those key characters in more depth.
On a scale of “OMG you have to read this, like, RIGHT NOW!” to “Trees died to become this abomination?!?”, The Specimen was a solid “Meh.”
I won’t be specifically looking for works by this author, but I would definitely read a sequel/prequel if it crossed my path and I had some spare time. The historical jumps especially would make one (or more) solid prequels. For instance, what was going on in that Bronze Age pool? Where did the Riders first come from? Did they plan on colonizing Earth?