“Much of what we are exists in the mysterious realm called memory. Our identities reside there. Without memories, what are we? Virtually nothing. Since I had no memories, I decided to investigate my surroundings and build some new ones.”

And just like that, Quentin Draith establishes himself as our intrepid hero, someone who is able to recover quickly and efficiently from the fact that he has just woken up alone in a strange room at a sanatorium, strongly sedated, physically injured and with no memory whatsoever. He “knows” that he has to get out and search for answers because he “knows” something sinister is afoot.

The allure of an unreliable narrator is often enough of an incentive for me to pick up a book, but when the unreliability of said narrator is compromised by the contrived reasoning that he just knew, I find myself wondering, why even bother?           

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Of course Quentin is not wrong and something sinister is definitely afoot in Las Vegas. Soon enough he learns that he is a blogger who specializes in the supernatural, and that he is connected to several unusual deaths. Quentin’s investigations lead him to an underground world where the mysterious leaders of the “Community”—of which he turns out to be a Rogue member—control seemingly mundane objects that actually give powers to their owners.

Part CSI: Las Vegas, part The X-Files with a side of Memento, Technomancer moves in a convoluted fashion from one thread to another (murder investigation, romance, multidimensional strife, as well as Quentin’s fighting off the threat of extra-world invasion from alienlike creatures) without the necessary adroitness to weave each thread into a cohesive whole.  

My problems with Technomancer were, as you can surmise, many. The most conspicuous, infuriating of the issues raised by this novel is its problematic depiction of female characters.  

Technomancer’s narrative from Quentin’s point of view is extremely emblematic of the “male gaze,” i.e., whenever he meets a female character, Quentin’s description of them goes only as far as said female’s sexual attractiveness. This starts at the very beginning of the book, when a nurse visits him as soon as he wakes up in the sanatorium (don’t forget, this is a man who just woke up with no memory and no notion of his whereabouts):

“Her brunette hair was cut short, but remained feminine.”

When she leaves the room:

“I stared at her as she exited the room, but I was too worried to enjoy the view.”

After Quentin leaves the hospital he meets a girl named Holly, a stripper and casual drug user who he quickly befriends. There is not a single instance in which Quentin describes Holly other than by her looks. In fact, at one point, when he notices a tattoo on her thigh, he thinks, “I wouldn’t mind watching her pole-dance.” Mind you, this scene happens immediately after Quentin witnesses a young man being shot, and shortly after Quentin has nearly been killed by an encounter with an alien-looking being. Suffice it to say, the level of depth of this character is only skin deep.

When Holly is eventually kidnapped, this is what Quentin thinks:

“It didn't matter if Holly and I had slept together—even though we hadn't, I still wanted her back.” 

What a hero.

They eventually do sleep together, after he has rescued her, and soon after this amorous interlude, Holly is horrendously murdered. When Quentin finds her dead naked body, his main preoccupation is to start looking for something to cover her up in order to give her dignity (and make it look less like a sex crime), but then he thinks to himself:

“Everything Holly owned in the way of bed wear was sexy.” 

So even as she lies there, murdered, what she wears still defines Holly. Of course, her death gives Quentin the extra push he needs to go after the villains.

Concurrently to all this, Quentin is also getting attached to a second female character, Jenna, a young bride he met at a casino while she was still wearing a wedding dress following her husband’s disappearance on their wedding night. Quentin is supposed to help this young woman find her missing husband, yet despite the fact that she is obviously distressed he can’t help but ogle her. When she starts crying (on his chest, of course) over the death of her husband, he describes the moment thusly:  

“I stroked her hair once, then stopped myself. The scent of her perfumed body was in my face, and I felt myself attracted to her, and I began to feel protective.”   

Sexist protagonists are of course not a problem per se, so long as this sexism is challenged by the text somehow. But Quentin’s point of view goes completely unchallenged. Neither woman has any agency whatsoever, and both Holly and Jenna need Quentin’s help to solve their problems. One of them is even kind enough to get killed to give him extra motivation. Of course, the girl who is murdered is the (sexy) drug-addict stripper. The other female character is the (sexy) innocent bride who survives to become his paramour because, obviously, she didn’t really love her husband.

I wish I had no memory of reading this book.

In Booksmugglerish, Technomancer gets 3 out of 10.   

Thea James and Ana Grilo are The Book Smugglers, a website for speculative fiction and YA. You can find also find them at Twitter.