Look, here’s the thing. Let me tell you what the thing is. If you say “sci-fi retelling of The Count of Monte Cristo,” I am going to read that book even if I have to go to several different libraries to get it, which is how Influx, by Daniel Suarez, became one of the oldest books on my TBR spreadsheet, which is how I came to be reading it in the car on a recent road trip.
(That’s not the thing.)
Influx is about a man called Jon Grady who is such a Maverick that he invents a thing called a gravity mirror. A Shady Organization called the Bureau of Technology Control (BTC) orders him to join them in concealing this scientific innovation from the rest of the world, because the World Can’t Handle the Truth. When Grady refuses (he’s a Maverick, remember), they ship him off to an isolated torture-prison called Hibernity, whence he must find a way to escape and bring True Science back to the world.
Sounds fun, right? (That’s not the thing either. That part is all fine.)
Along the way, he encounters the following woman, who was genetically designed by the BTC to be young and beautiful forever (as well as good at fighting, and fatally attractive to all men everywhere because chemicals):
Grady did a double take on the woman. She was incredibly beautiful, fair complected, with short jet-black hair and lapis lazuli blue eyes. She wore a tailored pantsuit and crisp white blouse–normal business attire. But in fact, she was so attractive it was difficult for Grady to take his eyes off her, despite his absurd predicament.
Since she’s the only female character we’ve encountered so far, this is already annoying. But it still isn’t the thing. Here’s an internal monologue from the preposterously attractive Alexa, right after she chucks the chin of a fat little baby she meets in the BTC halls.
It hurt. It really did. They’d made her the way she was, and in many ways she was grateful. But sterility was the price. Almost fifty years old, and she looked not a day over twenty-five. But she’d never menstruated. Never felt what it was like to be a woman. That look in the young mother’s eyes… She could feel the urge to be a mother. Even if she lived to be four hundred years old, she’d never know the joys and sorrows of motherhood. . . . The woman was chunky. Genetically inferior. But at that moment Alexa wanted to be her.
I don’t need my dumb adventure stories to also have magnificent character development. If they do, then huzzah, it kicks the whole endeavor up a notch in my estimation, and I’ll probably recommend the book to more people and with more enthusiasm. But if that’s not the author’s area of strength, that’s fine. I will be here for your revenge-motivated flattish characters doing a heist to save the world’s science using their varied skill sets. I love heists! I love team-ups!
But here, at last, is the aforementioned thing: it is maddening that we end up with three characters whose lives have been, in different ways, affected and damaged by this Evil Science Corporation, and one of them is a lady, so of course the author has to rush in and tell us a) how heart-stoppingly gorgeous she is; and b) her aspirations on childbirth. Great. Thanks, Suarez. Those things seem super relevant to her quest of blowing shit up and releasing hitherto-concealed science information to the masses.
At the end, when this is all over and the information has been released to the masses and the prisoners on Prison Island have been freed, we get a mindblowingly aggravating epilogue wherein Grady and Alexa have been married for seven years and have a six-year-old daughter. She is his prize, you see, for successfully bringing down the Evil Science Corporation. And her aspirations of motherhood have been fulfilled. Doesn’t matter how. Science probably!
When characterization is lacking (this is the thing), authors tend to default back to tropes, and the tropes about women are always ladytropes. It’s about our physical appearance. It’s about our ability to bear children. And we are, ultimately, there to be awarded as prizes to male characters who succeed at things. After we’ve been told that Alexa has never experienced or been interested in romance, Grady kisses her (without, by the way, permission) out of nowhere just prior to their final assault on the BTC; and in the epilogue, boom, they’re married. Is this a thing we were supposed to be wanting for these two characters?
If the answer to that question seemed like yes to anyone, it’s because that’s what girls are for. And that is the thing. The thing that makes me want to punch a wall. When all I goddamn wanted from this book was a fun fucking adventure story.