Edge Science Fiction and Fantasy Publishing (2006)
Reviewed by Alisa Krasnostein (this review was originally published in 2006)
Overall, the science fiction novels published in Australia in 2006 were disappointing. Hydrogen Steel by K A Bedford was one of the few standouts that managed to hold my attention for the whole book. Thrilling in places, suspenseful in others, an avid science fiction reader could do a lot worse than Bedford’s latest offering.
Former homicide inspector Zette McGee has found a quiet life on the Serendipity retirement habitat in the Sirius A system. Her quiet, peaceful life is interrupted by a call from Kell Fallow in desperate need of her help and claiming to be a disposable, just like her. Being an android is McGee’s big secret. No-one knows, not even her best friend Gideon Smith. It’s the reason she quit the police force and she’s still not really fully convinced that it’s true and if it is, where her life ends and her programmed memories begin.
When Kell Fallow is blown up whilst trying to smuggle himself into Serendipity, McGee and Smith become involved in not only the mystery surrounding his death and the prior murder of his wife but also the bigger mystery of the Fireminds and, in particular, Hydrogen Steel and the intergalactic war it is waging.
Bedford writes a competent novel with good pacing but I couldn’t help thinking that the plot was too much of an exercise in connecting the dots. Each encounter and incident led the protagonist onto the next; each revealing enough information to help her get to the next clue, with Smith conveniently pulling tricks out of his hat when plot advancement required it. From this aspect, I found the story very straightforward and not all that challenging. Ultimately, I expected all to be revealed and for it to be okay in the end. And it was. Some readers may find that satisfying. I have to admit to feeling unfulfilled.
I also had a lot of difficulty believing the McGee character. For a seasoned ex-homicide cop who has seen it all, I was surprised and annoyed at how overdramatically she responded to events. I think she threw up from shock about six times in the course of the novel. Sure, you would expect extreme reactions to having everything you know about yourself and the universe be shown to be wrong but, given that our cop has seen and done it all, I couldn’t help feeling after about the third instance that perhaps Bedford could find other ways to express and convey feelings of surprise, shock, horror, revulsion, fear and so on. For me, the lack of credibility in McGee often got in the way of the story.
All of that said, this novel really was one of the strongest to come out of the Australian science fiction scene last year. If you’re looking for a bit of a space adventure, an exploration of self and identity and a hint of romance, Hydrogen Steel will be a pleasant way to spend a rainy afternoon. It’s an enjoyable pageturner but ultimately forgettable.