"A tense thriller that will appeal to fans of video games and sinister villains."– Kirkus Reviews
Dober (AmEarth, 2015, etc.) offers a story of familial revenge involving an ingenious diamond heist.
After his father’s death, Juan Luis Merlo lives in San Diego, where he works as a waiter at The Savory Yolk and sends most of his money to his mother in Tijuana, Mexico. Juan blames his family’s misfortune on Tickell Insurance Products Corporation (TIPCO), which fought his father in court for years over a settlement after a fire destroyed his toy factory and his family’s future. After TIPCO delivered a token payment, Juan’s father died. TIPCO then ruled Juan’s father’s accidental death a suicide and refused to pay any life insurance benefits. Juan has spent years concocting the perfect crime to avenge his father, and the plan involves robbing diamonds from TIPCO client Quayles Jewels, using 35 trained carrier pigeons fitted with tiny pouches. On the appointed day, Juan’s plan works flawlessly—except that one of the birds doesn’t make it out of the store. The police then attach a GPS tracker to the pigeon and set it free. This heist tale’s plot moves briskly and is full of surprises. However, it’s marred by poor execution. The dialogue is often improbable; for example, as cops head to the crime scene, one of them says, “Come on, Ivory, somebody could be in danger!” There’s also a lot of telling and not much showing: “He then became extremely guarded and made sure his mom wasn’t in on his plans.” Some word choices are inexplicable (“Cliff swirled past slow cars”) and the Spanish dialogue is accompanied by a complete English translation, rendering it irrelevant. Overall, Dober’s characters are one-dimensional with the single exception of Juan, who has a realistic back story and motivation.
A crime caper with an original idea that falls short on nearly every other level.
In Dober’s (Ultimatus, a Gaming Corporation, 2014) novel, threats of alien attack from deep space unite humanity under a high-tech, American-led one-world government—but what if the hostile aliens are, in fact, a hoax?
In the year 2045, the planet is under siege, according to authorities. Aliens from distant Kepler 3763 contacted Earth via radio transmissions in the 1980s, but a paranoid President Ronald Reagan reacted with a barrage of long-range missiles. Because of the nearly 24-light-year distance, the 21st-century world can expect long-delayed deadly retaliation. Thus the nations of the world are persuaded to combine and cooperate under the U.S.–led “AmEarth” umbrella, sharing in the construction of a giant “honeycomb” shield above the stratosphere while putting aside old enmities. Only holdouts Bolivia and New Zealand challenge the new world order, denouncing it as imperialistic propaganda. One AmEarth citizen listening to the skeptics is Scott Johansen, the teenage son of well-liked politician Peter Johansen. Peter starts to share Scott’s doubts when AmEarth’s first president, Neil Chen Tyson, taps him as his successor in a rigged election and explains to him that AmEarth is secretly run by a superintelligent artificial intelligence of terrestrial origin. Dober isn’t the first author to imagine a sham alien-invasion scare as a self-serving con—there was a similar payoff in Alan Moore’s 1987 graphic novel Watchmen (which referenced a 1963 episode of The Outer Limits). But he thinks through the details well and tells his yarn in a measured voice that will appeal to adult sci-fi newcomers and YA genre fans who want to read about dystopias in which upholding the status quo is a defensible idea. Readers expecting chases and action-packed battles, though, may have their hopes deflated by the staff discussions, committee votes, and dinner-table dialogue. That said, Dober nicely presents the philosophical problem of a functioning, utopian-level society built on a lie. Characterizations tend to be lean, but there are cute cameos by Donald Trump, Sasha Obama, and New Zealander filmmaker Peter Jackson. The open ending points inevitably to a sequel.
Nonviolent Orwellian sci-fi, somewhat prosaically told but asking good questions.
In the near future, video games have grown more advanced—and deadly—in Dober’s debut sci-fi thriller.
Ultimatus, the most advanced video game of them all, is also the most dangerous, or so some people suspect. Its high-tech Ultisuits immerse the wearer in the game, making it a taxing physical challenge. Most players don’t really believe the rumors about the yearly tournament though. Even the most highly skilled players, who understand the game’s demands and are paid handsomely to play Ultimatus, don’t think that anyone actually dies when his or her avatar is killed. Others are starting to wonder, however. As this year’s game approaches and people begin to disappear, the law enforcement agencies of several countries plan to find the missing players along with the tournament’s location and creator. Known only as Fellini, the game’s maker has so far organized four Ultimatuses without anyone but the players knowing where they are held. CIA agents Simon Prince and Mark Sloan have been playing the game as one character in an attempt to be invited to the tournament, but only one of them can actually attend in person. Eventually, Mark finds himself alone at the Ultimatus’ final stage. He quickly falls in with top players Stellan Bostrøm and Gina Gazzoni, but although he likes Stellan as a friend and is attracted to Gina, Mark has to concentrate on one thing above all—surviving the match. Dober moves the action along at a whirlwind pace, immersing readers in the virtual world and keeping tension high as both Mark and Simon fight for Mark’s life. Although there are certainly plenty of killer video game stories in the sci-fi world, Dober manages to keep things interesting with an easy style that toggles seamlessly between game play and the real world, resulting in an action-stuffed, enjoyable read.
A tense thriller that will appeal to fans of video games and sinister villains.