Scavenged, by Scott Arbuckle: For Fans of XCOM
Scott Arbuckle’s Scavenged has been sitting on my “To Read” shelf for quite some time, and I finally made a point of diving into it this past week. A quick read, I’m glad I made the plunge for a variety of reasons.
(1) It reminded me of my days playing XCOM. A good and bad trait for a book. For those who don’t know, the XCOM video games place you as the commander of a military group tasked with protecting humanity from UFOs. It’s fun! It’s tactical strategy, and the procedurally generated nature of the game means no two play-throughs are ever the same. And I never thought I’d read a book that would expand on this type of setting.
Which was cool . . . but I also felt like I was reading worldbuilding points straight from the game in certain chapters. Which made the book feel partially derivative. Not the worst series to derive your story from, though!
(2) It diligently explored moral questions of human advancement. Arbuckle expertly handles questions of humanity’s relationship with technology, particularly honing in on a classic moral question: “Do the ends justify the means?” Whether intentionally or not, by the end of the book, I found parts of my brain agreeing with the antagonists, which means Arbuckle wrote compelling antagonists.
(3) The pace of the book never slows down. Almost every chapter’s got its action scene, which made the book a gripping and fast-paced read. I actually finished the final third in about an hour on a Sunday morning.
With those points in mind, I’m going to emphasize my biggest gripe with Scavenged, and until I run it through my scoring metric, I’m not entirely certain how it will affect its score. If you read the Amazon description of Scavenged, you’re led to believe the tale focuses on Lyra and Orion, two positively wonderful characters whose dynamic really drives a decent chunk of the narrative.
However, the Amazon description neglects to mention Auriga, the other central character to this tale . . . and a character who may receive more screen time (so to speak) than Lyra and Orion. While I’m not an opponent of multi point-of-view books, every time Auriga’s chapters were in front of me, I wanted to know what was happening to Orion.
Auriga’s narrative is good; and it’s important to the moral questions of the tale (see (2) above), but at times, I felt like his story served more as a vehicle through which to explore cool technological and biological exploits, rather than to push Orion and Lyra’s story forward. Some of the longest, action-packed sequences occur in Auriga’s chapters, but given the care and focus applied to building Orion’s backstory, I didn’t really feel the stakes of Auriga’s potential death in these chapters. I cared about what happened to Orion; if Auriga died, it wouldn’t matter, because it would pull me back to Orion.
With all of that being said, the final chapters bring everything together in a satisfactory conclusion. Arbuckle has established a story with many open-ended strands it can follow; I’m excited to see where the narrative goes in Augmented, the sequel.
Now onto the scores!
Writing: 7/10. I enjoyed the fast pace of Arbuckle’s writing in Scavenged, though I consistently felt like some sentences were a bit wordy with words like now, indeed, still, that, and other filler words. That’s also my “editor brain” not being able to be turned off. Importantly, I don’t think I noticed a single grammatical error or typo in the entire book.
Characters: 7.5/10. Orion and Lyra (and Corvus) blew me away, but Auriga fell a bit flat. Another character (Vinculum) really sealed the deal on the ability of Arbuckle to write gripping characters, though, earning that extra 0.5 points.
Plot: 6.5/10. Given the criticism I dropped above, you might expect a lower score than 6.5, but I want to emphasize that Arbuckle has developed a compelling tale about humanity’s relationship with technology and more generally, evolution. It’s told through all characters in different ways, and while I disliked Auriga as a character, he will most likely appeal to other readers!
Setting: 7.5/10. As I said, I enjoyed the throwback to XCOM, though I wish I could have acquired a bit more understanding of the overarching political situation on Earth throughout the tale. There were hints to a fascinating relationship between anti-tech groups, a “resistance,” and a one-world government known as the Protectorate, but I didn’t get a true sense of what those groups meant. But the injection of the Lacerta in the tale bumped this score from a solid 7 to a 7.5.
Overall: 7.125/10. Just scraping into the 4 Star category, congratulations, Scavenged! And remember, if you’re interested in acquiring the book, find it over on Amazon!