The Courier, by Gerald Brandt

The Courier, by Gerald Brandt book coverGenre: Science Fiction
Publisher: Daw Books
Published: 2016
Reviewer Rating: four stars
Book Review by Joshua Palmatier

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This is Gerald Brandt’s debut novel and it’s a strong showing. He’s definitely someone to watch. I enjoyed this take on a near future thriller.

Premise: Kris is a courier, running packages back and forth on her motorcycle in the massive layered city of San Angeles. The population has become so dense that we’ve built upwards as well as outwards, and now cities have distinct layers, each level a distinct class, with few people ever seeing the sky.

Kris originally lived in the lowest level, barely surviving after her parents died and she ran away from her aunt and uncle. But she’s worked her way upwards and the courier job allows her to see the levels above her, although she’s never been outside. She’s happy with the life she’s carved out. But then she gets a strange message to deliver a package at the end of her shift that turns exceptionally bad when she walks in on a brutal murder.

Now she’s on the run from a corporate assassin who wants whatever’s in the package and is willing to do anything to get it. Can Kris outsmart the assassin and the multiple corporations who want the package?

This is entirely a thriller, set on a near future Earth. The sci-fi elements are intriguing, but it’s the setting itself–the layered city that stratifies the class structure of this future world–that’s the most interesting and compelling. San Angeles (which I assume is a massive city spanning both San Diego and Los Angeles) is dirty, dark, realistic, and gritty. And the situation in which Kris finds herself is totally believable, with corporations ruling the future, vying for our lives as if they were commodities for their own profit.

Kris herself is a compelling character, one that you want to follow and want to see succeed. She’s smart–street smart–because of her past, but not so smart that her situation isn’t filled with tension. She doesn’t know all the answers, and much of the novel is her reacting to situations as best she can, not necessarily making the wisest decisions. In other words, she’s realistic.

Overall, I thought this was a strong debut novel. I had a few quibbles with things here and there, nothing major–such as the assassin, who I thought wasn’t as strong a character as he could have been, and then one particular reaction from Kris that I can’t talk about because it would spoil something in the novel. But again, those were quibbles. The setting and the characters are definitely worth the read, and have kept me waiting for the sequel since I finished this.

Joshua Palmatier/Benjamin Tate

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