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- Published on Amazon.com
Format: Mass Market Paperback
Charon, an android criminal mastermind has been defeated, and all the various copies of himself deleted. Now the only problem left for General Thomas Wharington is what to do with Charon's android helpmate and hatchet woman, Alpha.
Alpha is about as advanced as an android can be without achieving actual sentience. She has super strength, massive computing abilities, and physically resembles in every way a thoroughly beautiful, sensual human woman. But Alpha was also programmed to be a ruthless mercenary and a very effective killer.
Thomas and the US government need the information Alpha has stored in her matrix about Charon's organization, but she refuses to cooperate, and if they take apart her "brain" to access the information, everything Alpha is or might become will be destroyed. As Thomas spends more and more time with the android, he becomes convinced that Alpha's programming has evolved, and now he must decide between serving his country, or saving the android he's watched evolve closer and closer to humanity by the day. The android he is increasingly coming to care for...
I picked up this book from the library because it was listed on the Galaxy Express as one of the top 100 SFR of all time. I'd read a few of Catherine Asaro's fantasy romance novels in high school, and liked them well enough, but this book was much grittier and had far less romance than those books. Alpha is also the sequel to Asaro's book Sunrise Alley, which I'd wish I'd realized going in, because the first several chapters are spent recapping events and reintroducing characters from Sunrise Alley. I caught up well enough, and I don't think you need to read Sunrise Alley to like or understand Alpha, but this book does have some serious spoilers for Sunrise Alley, so if you care about things like that, read the books in order.
The main character of Alpha is, oddly enough, not the android Alpha, but her captor and champion, Thomas. Thomas is a three-star general, a former fighter pilot, the survivor of more than one heart attack and over seventy years old (but through various life-lengthening medical treatments he only looks and feels about 50). This book very much belongs to Thomas, and is less about Alpha evolving into a person, as it is Thomas coming to understand how he feels about Alpha and his own humanity. Thomas was a pretty likable protagonist, and I appreciated how he was not a Teflon hero. Thomas gets beat-up and bruised and broken, and every confrontation he's in, he walks--or limps--away with injuries.
I appreciated that realistic treatment, particularly considering Thomas's age. Even Thomas himself notices he doesn't bounce back from rough-handling like he would have in his youth. This was a nice deviation from the usual SF hero, who is typically a robust specimen of Alpha-maledom. Thomas himself is sort of a recovering Alpha male, trying to become more in tune with his own emotions, and trying to become better about communicating them and demonstrating his feelings to those he loves. He's realized he's not immortal or infallible, so he's also working on letting the other people in his life see that. Which is why the ending really pissed me off, because it basically undercut his character arc. But I don't want to have spoilers so I won't say more than that.
So, you might have noticed I'm not talking too much about Alpha in this review, and that's because I feel like she's really only a supporting player in this book. She does change throughout the novel, but the main thrust of the narrative is definitely focused on Thomas. This means that I really feel like this book can't be classified as a romance, per se. I didn't really see an emotional connection between Thomas and Alpha. He primarily seemed attracted to her because of how sexy she is, and she seems to be attracted to him because he reminds her of her creator, Charon, which was more than a little creepy for me.
Another issue of the book was it felt very episodic. There isn't really a strong central conflict that drives the momentum of the plot, which means that at times the pacing felt a little aimless.
The world-building also could have been given more page-space. The story is set in a near-future (2032) United States, and I actually felt like this could have been explored a little more. It didn't feel like the near-future for me the way, say, Naked in Death did. The world of this book felt more like a SF world made up out of whole cloth. Thomas, for instance, was born in 1960, and I would have liked him to relate the future he's living in to the "past" that the reader is inhabiting. He didn't feel like someone who was born in the sixties, grew up in the seventies, etc., his background just felt kind of generic American in the Far Future, so I would have liked more details that could help me sink into his mindset, his experiences more.
On the whole, problems aside, this wasn't a bad read. Thomas was a pretty likable protagonist, and a breath of fresh air after all the hard-ass alpha heroes I've been reading lately, and if you don't mind that the book is light on the romance, give it a try.