X’d Out, by Eric Hermanson

xd-out-by-eric-hermanson coverGenre: Science Fiction
Publisher: WigWam Publishing Company
Published: 2002
Reviewer Rating: two and a half stars
Book Review by Lynn Nicole Louis

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Meet X-84. He’s a human brain, transferred from body to body (termed ‘vehicles’ in the book) for the purpose of carrying out assassinations. He’s vying for the ‘A-List’, that elite cadre of killers who get special benefits above and beyond the norm. But only the best make it to the A-List. Right now, X-86 is the only assassin so honored, and X-86 sees X-84 as a rival and hates his guts. To top it off, X-84 has started to experience some odd dreams, dreams of a former life surfacing out of the dark pool of his unconscious despite his keepers’ best attempts to keep them submerged. He’s a killer with a conscious.

And you thought you had problems.

Eric Hermanson has done something that’s hard to do. He’s taken a concept that is basically unbelievable–disembodied brains that can be transferred from body to body–and built a story around it. A story that, while it won’t win any awards, is a decent enough way to spend an afternoon or three.

There is some monotony here. Here’s how the story starts: X-84 gets a body, receives his assignment, goes out, and has various adventures while killing his victim. Now take that and repeat it. And repeat it. And repeat it. And repeat it. Get the picture? There’s enough variation in X-84’s missions to keep them mildly interesting, but in all honesty I was tired of the cycle by the time I got to the end of the book.

Yet the repeated scenario serves Hermanson’s purpose of developing X-84. Despite his occupation, X-84 is a sympathetic character. He really is in a dilemma. He doesn’t like what he does, but really has no choice. He has moments of weakness during his adventures where supposedly suppressed emotions come through. He’s tortured and conflicted, and that makes for a good character. I found myself feeling sort of sorry for him, and that’s a good sign.

As far as his ‘jobs’ go, he’s a pretty incompetent assassin. That isn’t to say he doesn’t get the job done, but he doesn’t come across as the ‘professional’ you would think the organization he works for would demand. In his last job in the book, he makes some really stupid, amateurish mistakes. That, more than the disembodied brain part, struck me as unbelievable and puts a tarnish on the story.

The rest of the characters are less well developed. Paying bit more attention to them might have even added a bit more to X-84. I think Hermanson missed the boat a bit when it came to X-86. X-86 is shaping up to be X-84’s nemesis (a sequel is promised); developing him a bit more would have added some fullness to the story. But since the tale is written in first person from X-84’s point of view, I can see how that would be hard to do.

I think there’s potential here for a more interesting exploration of the concept of self than Hermanson gives us. What makes us what we are? Our memories? Our experiences? What happens to the self if someone takes those things away? Good questions that Hermanson makes a stab at, but deserve more than he gave.

The verdict? I recommend it, but with reservations. Some readers might have problems with the brain transfer thing, but Hermanson writes well enough to take most readers past that. As an assassin, X-84 would have been laid off, and that hurt the suspension of disbelief some. Good character development, but a repetitious plot. It will be interesting to see how Hermanson’s skills develop.

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