Way back in 2005 J. C. Hutchins tried to sell his book. Nobody wanted it. There were good reasons nobody wanted it. It was almost unmarketable. The book was 1200 pages and had seven protagonists. It also didn’t fit into an easy genre label. It was quite definitely science fiction, the protagonists were clones, but it was also a political thriller, and maybe a little bit of a horror novel.
Then he heard about podiobooks, a service that allows people to post audio versions of their books as podcasts. The service was free so he broke his behemoth manuscript into three chunks and started recording. Despite the unfortunate negative stigma that come with being self published his book, 7th Son, became an almost instant success. He won podcasting awards for it and attracted thousands of listeners. Enough that a major publishing house contacted J. C. Hutchins and offered to publish his books.
I first heard of 7th Son a year after it came out when Nathan Fillion, the star of Firefly, filled in as a guest reader on the podcast. After looking at the website I dismissed it as self published, unprofessional and not worth my time. (I know that not actually reading it isn’t giving it a fair chance but that’s how I roll.) When I heard that it was being published on actual paper I decided to give it a try, after all it was the most popular serialized audio podcast novel release of all time. (I suspect there isn’t a whole lot of competition for that moniker.)
The first book of 7th Son, Descent, starts with seven people being kidnapped. They are taken to a government facility and told that they are all clones. A young man, John Michael Smith, was raised under supervision by the 7th Son project until he was 14. Then his memories, consciousness, and thoughts were downloaded into a huge computer array and then uploaded into the minds of seven clones.
Now, fifteen years later, the clones are being brought back together because their genetic forebear, John Alpha, has turned into a terrorist and is threatening the entire world. The clones are expected to find a way to bring him down.
This book has many layers that get deeper as the story progresses. At first it sounds like a weigh in on the ‘Nature versus Nurture’ debates, coming in heavily on the side of Nurture. The seven clones all live completely different lives. John is a musician/bartender, Jonathon is a UN politician, Dr. Mike is a psychological profiler, Jack is a geneticist for a university, Michael is a Marine, Father Thomas is a Catholic priest and Kilroy 2.0 is a paranoid conspiracy theorist hacker.
It also explores the different reactions that each of the clones has toward the discovery of their origins. Father Thomas is devastated, after all he has no soul. He cannot be saved, he is an abomination. Kilroy 2.0 just feels vindicated, he’s suspected this all along. Jack is appalled at the complete lack of ethics. Michael just accepts it as another part of life, just move on.
The story is very well written with generous foreshadowing that isn’t usually noticeable until afterward. Dialogue feel natural and sounds different depending on which character is speaking. The technology in the story is much more advanced than what we have today – even though it takes place in modern day – but that is usually explained because 7th Son is so super secret. For most of the book this worked for me and I didn’t really think about it much. Later on when there were things like invisibility suits and unbreakable security software developed by 12 year old girls my suspension of disbelief started to waver.
At its heart this story is a thriller, though. Every paragraph, page and chapter is designed to make you feel eerie.
I enjoyed this book for the gripping way the story was told. I liked that the clones were not all just carbon copies of each other. I liked that the reaction of all the characters, even minor ones, were real and different from each other.
J. C. Hutchins likes to use mataphors and similes, especially when this are starting to get a little traumatic. Some of these are really clever, a lot of them are a little bit forced. I think this is one sign of a new writer who didn’t have the luxury of a professional editor. Some of his technology went a little beyond my suspension of disbelief, as I mentioned earlier but the stength of the characters and the intensity of their situations was enough for me to get over it and just pretend like invisibility suits were possible.
I felt like this book was very well done for a first novel and it was both exciting and engaging. The characters were real and interesting, some of them more than others. J. C. Hutchins tells an engaging tale and he’s not afraid to kill some of his characters when it will make a better story.