The Paradise Factory is book #1 of the Cortex series, written by Jim Keen. The cover and the cyberpunk feeling to it immediately got me on board. Also, it was available for an immediate read on Netgalley, and given I just registered there, I couldn’t pass on the opportunity.
Introduced as a Cyberpunk story set in 2055 New York, the story follows officer Alice Yu as she tries to save her partner. The book has more of a dystopian feeling than anything else and was a bit different from what I expected.
Potential Spoilers Ahead!
The Paradise Factory: The Plot
The year is 2055, the place is New York, and the weather is terrible. There has been an unsuccessful attempt to colonize Mars, and the world is ruled by AIs in all their shapes and forms, rendering mankind obsolete.
That’s led to severe class discrepancies. Those who have money live in their sky-high towers, the rest – in the gutters. The Manhattan bridges are turned into law-free zones for tech experiments, and the police are for nothing more than crowd control making sure rations are distributed without incident.
In the midst of all that, officer Yu and her partner are ambushed by a fearsome crime boss’ goons. He gets taken, and she sets on a dangerous path to retrieve him, possibly alive. But for that, she has to enter one of the bridges, going against police rules and sinking deep into the demons of her past. There, she crosses paths with a gutter boy, who’s ready to put his life on the line just to get by.
The Paradise Factory: The Characters
I can’t say there was something mind-blowing about the characters. We got two major POVs and a couple of secondary ones. I’ll focus on the major ones.
- Officer Alice Yu – an ex-Marine, who went to Mars and got herself equipped with PTSD after the mission goes sideways. She’s guilt-ridden, resorting to anything to take her mind off the memories. At the same time, she passes as loyal. After all, Alice goes after her partner risking her job and life in the process.
A great effort has been made to depict Alice as strong, independent, and willful. To paint her predicaments as a journey, a sort of growth of character that finally frees herself from the guilt and the trauma. It started out well and then that development lost traction for me.
The character development wasn’t as seamless as I expected it would be. To add to that, most of the events seemed like they resolved themselves around Alice, without much contribution on her part.
- Red – the little street kid that gets tasked with a serious job and driven by despair puts his life on the line to finish the job. All leading up to a rather anticlimactic end. But! Red was exciting and engaging. There wasn’t a clear pattern to his actions, and like every teenager out there, managed to mark a sort of growth of character.
I don’t think there was anything that rather put me off with him, on the contrary. I wanted to learn more of him, to see more of his smarts, and to witness him cope with life on the streets. Hopefully, I’ll get some more of that in the next book.
The Side Dishes of the Story
The villain of the story, Mr. Piggy Bank – the boss of the Fourth Ward (one of the law-free zones on the bridges) was a rather unimpressive baddie. He had a mandatory kink – an obsession with sunflowers, but he wasn’t juicy as a villain. Maybe because he doesn’t seem to be the Big Bad act, considering the end of the book, but his existence, for now, was more of a plot device.
On the other hand, I loved the Suit. That was a charming asshole piece of clothing I would love to wear. Suit was the most dynamic part of that book and its back-and-forth with the other characters fueled me. I feel there’s great potential to be explored with it and the MI, and the rest of the synthetic elements of The Paradise Factory
What Were the Book’s Drawbacks?
There were a couple of problematic things for me as a reader. I won’t go into too much detail, I will just mark them for those of you who might find them crucial to like a book or not.
- With The Paradise Factory, Jim Keen tried to dip his fingers into too many pots. Space travels, dystopia, environmental change, class wars, societal breakdown, and cyberpunk in one. It felt scattered all over the place, with not as much cyberpunk as I hoped for.
- As I mentioned above, things happened around Alice. She somehow always managed to come out on top without much effort on her part. I like my main characters struggling and doing things, instead of getting things done for or around them.
- The POVs weren’t balanced, and I kept wanting more of Red’s POV, to be honest.
- I. Wanted. More. Cyberpunk and sentient machines. Hope to get more of that in the next installment.
Should You Read The Paradise Factory?
I’d say yes. If you’re looking for a fast-paced quick read with a charming sidekick, that is. The book doesn’t offer much in character development, but sets the foundation for a very intriguing sequel. I hope it is one, because I’ll be putting the second book – This Automatic Eden on my To-Read-List.
Before that, I’ll most likely check out the short story Contact Binary that is said to bridge the two books of the Cortex series.