The Solid-State Shuffle is another entry in my team’s first round batch of Self-Published Science Fiction Competition (SPSFC) novels. After reading extended previews of each book, we picked ten quarterfinalists to read to completion in search of the three semifinalists that we would pass to the other teams. I had mixed feelings about my introduction, with some interest in the plot but an intense dislike of the main character, so I did not have this on my list of books to continue. But the team was intrigued, and so I pushed forward with Jeffrey A. Ballard’s futuristic tale of theft and intrigue.
Set against the backdrop of a 22nd-century America reshaped by rising seas, the plot outline of The Solid-State Shuffle is pretty straightforward: a band of three thieves—new to the Seattle Isles and in need of a quick score after disaster back East—pull an underwater caper that leaves them hopelessly entangled in the affairs of the most powerful and dangerous of the criminal world. Isa, Puo, and Winn need to figure out who they’ve angered and how to fix it before they’re forced to flee for their lives. Again.
As I said in the introduction, this book wasn’t my choice to continue, and if left to my own devices, I’d have dropped it at 20%. Because I’m growing tired of snarky protagonists, and Isa was a particularly egregious example, mouthing off at everyone she meets—even when it gets her into trouble—and peppering the first-person narrative with juvenile (and often misogynistic) jibes about other characters’ looks and emotional responses. But the team voted to continue, and as I pressed on, I found myself enjoying snappy pace and twisty plot.
My complaints about The Solid-State Shuffle never went away—Isa stays rude and unlikable, and it made it hard for me to invest in her relationships with Puo and Winn—but the book’s strengths were enough for me to enjoy the read regardless. Seemingly every character we met was involved in some sort of scheme, with varying degrees of threat to our heroes, and the attempt to sort them out was enough to keep me curiously flipping the pages. Isa’s narration keeps the pace moving quickly, making for a book that reads even shorter than its advertised 275 pages, and there was never too much time between the new layers of intrigue that gradually supplied pieces to the puzzle of the overarching plot. Unrelenting mouthiness aside, the leads were smart enough to avoid the obvious snares, but not so smart as to avoid getting themselves into serious trouble, and that trouble was delivered with sufficient tension to make me care about the results even if I didn’t like the characters.
Not liking the lead—and not in a fascinating antihero sort of way, just in an immature and annoying sort of way—does provide a pretty significant mark against it, but The Solid-State Shuffle has a fast enough pace and intriguing enough plot to be pretty fun anyways. If you don’t have the same problems I do with juvenile insults, this one is worth a look.
Recommended if you like: fast-paced heist novels with snarky protagonists (and you don’t mind some immaturity to the snark).
Can I use it for Bingo? It’s hard mode for Found Family and is also (obviously) Self-Published.
Overall rating: 13 of Tar Vol’s 20. Three stars on Goodreads.
SPSFC Score: 6.5/10 for my personal score. We will await the four other judges on the team before releasing the official team score.