This zany book plays with science fiction and thriller tropes, resulting in a tale that is oversized, fun, and fast.
Sam Mitani’s exciting thriller The Prototype includes science fiction elements as it takes on the cloak-and-dagger world of the Japanese auto industry.
Stockton Clay wants to be a great writer, but he is stuck in his low-level gig writing for an automobile magazine. Clay, a car nerd with a recurring nosebleed, thirsts for more. His big break comes when he is mysteriously selected to attend the Kamita Motors debut of a new prototype race car. Clay thinks his prayers have been answered, but the car show is just the beginning of the surprises headed his way.
Clay soon learns that his invitation came from the hermit-like head of Kamita Motors himself, Tetsuro Kanda. Kanda also happens to be the only one who can help him with his nosebleeds, which foretell a rare, life-threatening genetic condition. Clay’s world explodes, with CIA agents, guns, nanotechnology, and human clones bent on his demise. It isn’t long before Clay is leaping away from enemies and blasting spies.
The book’s writing is journalistic in feel, with lots of overly specific details, down to the brands of clothes that characters wear. Cliffhanger chapter endings keep the book moving forward. Occasional clichés in exposition and dialogue detract from the text.
While interesting, the story is predictable, beyond one major twist. The mystery of why Kanda wants to meet Clay is quickly resolved, as are questions of his mysterious origins related to being adopted by American parents. Over the course of the novel, Clay evolves from a nerd to the guy who gets the girl. Clay’s occasional incredulousness about all the craziness that happens around him feels genuine.
The book has a certain noir charm, with its over-the-top action, cloned Russian gangsters, and Clay’s spy skills (derived from playing video games). It reads like a retro-style video game, complete with laughable evil minion dialogue in which the good guys must “pay with pain,” a phrase best read with a Russian accent. The book’s action comes with a wink and a nudge.
The best elements of the book peel back the world of Japanese automakers, giving a glimpse of Tokyo and what it feels like to drive fantastic cars, all while living a fantasy-filled life. The book’s violence is not graphic and neither is its sexuality. It satirizes gaming life and thrillers in general in a way that is genuine and enjoyable, cleverly mixing classic thriller techniques with science fiction elements from cloning to nanotechnology.
Prototype is a satirical thriller that gets its kicks from its speed and its willingness to explore the boundaries of what defines humanity.
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