Tor.com; May 25, 2021
160 pages (ebook)
3.5 / 5 ✪
Warning: May contain minor spoilers
When Scholar Zychtykas “Kas” Three comes to Old Earth, all she expects to find is an irradiated trash heap overrun by militant malware and practically unlivable. After all, Old Earth is part monument, mausoleum, and trash heap. Of course, Kas had just risked everything to come here, to study the remnants of old tech, to find something that will make her career.
What she finds instead is Zhi Zero, who quickly suckers her into a bet on a warbot fight. A bet fronted by the credit of the Sentinel Scholarium, based on money that Kas doesn’t have. But Zhi doesn’t know that—or care, really—after all, every offworlder is loaded, so a lost bet will just be another inconvenience to the scholar. To Zhi however, it’ll be a lifeline. All she has to do is win.
Something she fails to do. Now, indebted and hunted, Zhi goes underground to the remnants of her greatest secret—a 3rd Empire warbot, one that she’s worked for years to restore with little success. This is where Kas finds her—desperate herself to get out of the obligation of their bet. But Zhi doesn’t have the money, and only has the most desperate of plans to come up with it. Fortunately for her, Kas is already in too deep—and desperate enough to dig herself deeper in order to escape. This new plan involves cunning, coding, the 3rd Empire warbot, and a whole bunch more money neither woman has.
Featuring gundam battles, cyberpunk enhancements, and a dystopian future, Hard Reboot is exactly the kinda read I’m into. I really enjoyed the starting descriptions of Old Earth from an Offworlder, one whose world was prosperous and advanced—it reminded me of Cowboy Bebop where Earth is a decaying ruin: broken, flooded, and constantly bombarded by meteorites. Indeed, the irradiated Earth seems quite like this: a relic that no one quite knows what to do with, so they steer clear of it except to visit on vacations, once, and never come again.
The story doesn’t take much to get into either. It’s quite a simple setup, really: an offworlder is scammed out of her life savings by an equally desperate misfit and they have to team up to win the day. But while it works initially, the plot frays a bit when the two are thrown together. It keeps going from there, down the predictable linear path to a predictable conclusion. While there are a few twists and turns along the way, none of it seemed terribly inventive. As such, while the Kas-Zhi pairing started out well, after we cross the halfway point their interactions get a bit forced—which is my exact description of the romance. In addition to feeling like an afterthought, t’s like the “I’m a woman that’s into women and you’re a woman that’s into women, so we should be into each other” is any different from any heterosexual relationship that hasn’t started just because two random people are forced to spend time together. Compatibility and attraction aside, I’m not saying it’s an impossible love. It just seems a bit like a “first love” that gets hot and heavy but spirals out of control quickly …while also involving giant robots. I’d definitely read that sequel, if Wexler ever gets around to it.
Hard Reboot is the story of battling gundams, ragtag romantics, and gritty cyberpunk thrills that you’ve always wanted—only in a sample size too small to fully enjoy. Set on an irradiated, dystopian Earth, it tells the story of two star-crossed lovers brought together by scams, sex, and giant fighting robots. The setting is a delight and something that I very much hope the author revisits later. The text hits the ground running, as we barely get out of the gate before the story takes off. But while it starts off quite well, the latter half is bogged down by an overly simplistic plot and an afterthought romance. While the story was entertaining, the ending was just okay. So… I’m a bit torn. I liked Hard Reboot, and I’d probably recommend it, but I’m not sure we’ll ever get the gundam-fight-breakup sequel that I’m convinced takes place after this book ends. Which is just a shame.
PS- If you don’t know what “gundams” are, please watch more anime. Thank you!