Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Reid Review: "The Armageddon Machine" by Simon Kewin

I recently navigated through my selection of unread books on my e-reader and picked out a random story to read. That book -- actually a novelette -- was The Armageddon Machine by Simon Kewin. The story is self-published, so I paid close attention to the first page to see if either 1) the author had no talent, which is why he self-published, or 2) he was someone with great talent using self-publishing as a tool to build readership and notoriety. I'm glad that he fell into the latter category.
Click image for e-book info.

In fact, I venture to say that this is the best ebook I've read in quite a while. The story grabbed my attention from the very first sentence, "Mackenzie watched the universe end." As I read on, I was whisked into a science fiction world that reminded me of Star God by Allen Wold: Sure, The Armageddon Machine may have needed more editing and may have had some unanswered questions, but it was good, nonetheless.

After reading the roughly 13,000-word story in one setting, I wondered why the story wasn't published by a traditional publisher. I gather that it is difficult to publish work at that length because it is too long for most magazines and too short to be a novel. Perhaps Kewin could expand the story into a novel. I think it would work well that way, would answer many questions and would give him more time to develop the characters.

Here's my honest review of the story (it has some spoilers, however):

The description of the story on Amazon.com goes like this: "The last, battered remnant of the feared Draconian starfleet limps through space, shadowed by ships of the victorious Million Star worlds. But the Draconian ship is still a terrible threat: it is the Draconian's final weapon, a device that can trigger the cascading collapse of space/time itself. Mackenzie, in charge of the Million Star fleet, fears what will happen if he attempts to destroy the device. Then, one of the semi-mythical Xin ancients arrives on his ship, suggesting a plan that appears to endanger all of reality. In the final battle with the Draconians, Mackenzie must decide whether to trust the Xin or not. The fate of the universe itself hangs on his actions ..."

The plot was good and had a good twist near the end, but I did have trouble believing the protagonist would go along with the plot twist, which I'll explain later. The first crux of the story is that this Armageddon machine on the Isiur ship they captured from the Draconians can create an instant universal Big Crunch (reversed Big Bang) and Mackenzi and the council deliberate how to deal with it. They fear destroying it because it might activate, but if they did nothing, it may may go off anyway if it had a timer. Instead the ship vanishes on its own and a Xin named Metarion appears (somehow) and knows where it went. Mackenzie trusts Metarion, but his trust is challenged when, after they find the machine, he, his ship's avatar, a captured Draconian, and Metarion attempt to deactivate it.

Character development
I don't recall the protagonist, Mackenzi, being described physically, but Metarion and Draconians are (I imagined the Draconians look like aliens from the Halo video game). When Metarion reveals that she wasn't entirely truthful with him, Mackenzi questions his trust with Metarion but ultimately decides to believe her.

First, I wondered why Metarion needed him in the first place to do her secret plot. I didn't agree with Metarion's explanation. Then I wondered why Mackenzi would still trust Metarion after being deceived. Again, I didn't believe Metarion's explanation why she had to withhold the truth until then. Because of this, Mackenzi's decisions seemed unbelievable to me because how can he trust someone he just met even though he admired the Xin race since childhood? Perhaps if the story was longer, this would have been resolved with more background of Mackenzi, but the story's novelette length didn't permit this.

Other than my issues with character development and mechanical errors, the story is great. It had philosophical and scientific elements on par with stories from the Golden Age of science fiction (although some of the scientific elements in this novelette were not explained, such as how Metarion with so much mass would not cause a gravitational pull or a black hole and how the Big Crunch would have been instantaneous).

In the end, the pacing was quick, the story was gripping, and back-and-forth debates were engaging. Those things are what I look for in stories, so I recommend you read this novelette.


  1. Hi Reid,

    Many thanks for reviewing The Armageddon Machine! You make a whole bunch of wise and insighful comments. I'm really glad you enjoyed it.

  2. That's a tricky word count. Like you stated, too long for a magazine article and too short for a novel. But thanks for the review just the same.

  3. Simon, I also read your fantasy short story "The Standing Stones of Erelong" published by Daily Science Fiction. The story also was good, and the stones reminded me of the Xin.

    Stephen, it would be great if Simon made his novelette into a novel. Orson Scott Card did that with his novella "Ender's Game" that was published in 1977 by Analog Science Fiction and Fact. It was seven years later, but he won a Nebula and Hugo. Card's novella version is on his website: http://hatrack.com/osc/stories/enders-game.shtml

  4. Reid,

    You're welcome. Aargh though - another novel I need to write!


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