There’s no thrill quite like following a protagonist down the rabbit hole and into a new world. Whether it’s Neo from The Matrix or Nyssa from Loose Threads, the first installment in J. O. Quantaman’s Cool Assassins series, we love discovering a setting alongside our audience surrogate character, and no amount of world-building can compare to the excitement of diving right in.
Nyssa was a victim of the sex trafficking industry in late 21st century British Columbia before Cook, founder of the Dog Breakfast co-op which trains misfits in “Quantum Assassination Theory,” or “qat” for short, takes her under his wing. Qat is this sci-fi series’ equivalent of downloading kung-fu from a computer or learning to bend the trajectory of a bullet, yet it’s rooted in intense training.
Not just anybody can become an acolyte, one of the elite spies on the Dog Breakfast team, and fewer still will ascend to the status of “rundog,” the highest rank an acolyte can achieve. Nyssa’s hero’s journey begins with her attempting to find her place in the co-op and ascertain why she was selected, in the same way that Neo grasps with his status as “the One.”
Between the retro-futuristic sci-fi setting and a myriad of terms to learn (a helpful future-to-present dictionary a la A Clockwork Orange can be found in the back of the book) there’s already a bit of a learning curve when it comes to reading Loose Threads. If that wasn’t enough to complicate things, Quantaman has structured the novel around a nonlinear narrative, jumping forward and back in time just as the reader finds their footing.
The confusion is deliberate and effective; Nyssa’s memories are clouded and compromised, and as she slowly learns more about who she was and is to become, so does the reader. Despite the setting and language, however, this is a human story. The acolytes might have 469 methods of self-defense, but they’re still fallible.
In addition to the imminent physical danger Nyssa finds herself in, she is vulnerable as she considers taking on a romantic relationship on her own terms. This is a character who has never experienced agency.
The global status quo of co-op networks where individuals coexist yet maintain their own agency reflects Nyssa’s new circumstances; after years of servitude to a pimp she refers to as Bossman, Dog Breakfast has offered her a new start where she is free to come into her own without being beholden to anyone.
It’s nowhere close to a perfect future, but it’s an original take on the world of tomorrow (give or take seventy years) that avoids the typical neo-noir cyberpunk clichés of gritty sci-fi.
Readers interested in a strong female protagonist and a rich, well-defined world will relish in Loose Threads, the introductory chapter to the Cool Assassins series. The action is fluid, the stakes are high and the writing is punchy and entertaining.
Loose Threads is now available.
About J. O. Quantaman
J. O. lives in Vancouver at the mouth of the Fraser River on Canada’s west coast. The city has been carved out of a temperate rainforest and is sandwiched between scenic mountains and the Pacific Ocean. It also happens to be the location of Dog Breakfast co-op, the home of the central characters for the Cool Assassins series.
He’s worked as a photographer, sports-fishing guide, cab driver and software developer. At present he is semiretired and an avid reader of history, scientific literature, historical fiction and science fiction, but he also enjoys a good mystery or romantic thriller.