Re-Coil (J. T. Nicholas) – Review

The most immediate comparison that can be drawn with J. T. Nicholas’ book Re-coil is between it and Richard K Morgan’s Altered Carbon, in which human consciousness can be transferred between bodies. In this book they are referred to as “Coils” while Altered Carbon refers to them as “Sleeves”.

Our main protagonist here is Carter Langston, a salvage expert. While salvaging a derelict vessel something goes terribly wrong and he and the rest of the crew are killed and their ship destroyed. Okay, accidents happen, but when he “recoils” back into a new body he finds that something has gone wrong. Not only is the last backup of his consciousness months old, but it had somehow got corrupted. If that wasn’t enough to deal with, someone wants him and his remaining crew mates permanently dead. And in this universe, where immortality is taken for granted, that’s a terrifying prospect.

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So he does what any of us would do: he runs. Meeting up with fellow crew mate Shay, the two of them attempt to stay one step ahead of their pursuers while trying to piece together what happened to his last body, the rest of the crew, and discover who exactly wants to erase them for good.

I will admit, at first the book didn’t grab me. The concept was one I’d seen in other places and the setting just wasn’t doing it for me but I kept reading. And reading. And reading. And by the end of it not only was I very happy I’d kept going, I was ready for more. What begins as a somewhat standard sci-fi story evolves, organically weaving in corporate espionage and deception, gender identity, and world-ending threats. The universe it inhabits began to live and breathe and draw me in and by the last chapters I was a confirmed fan.

Re-Coil deals with issues of self/gender identity with a surprisingly light touch, which is nice to see; the issues touched on with the character of Shay having died as a woman but been woken up in a male body. This is the downside of recoiling, sometimes you simply have to take whatever body is available and it’s not always the race/sex you might prefer.

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The idea of the Coils and “Branches”, that your former body is a branch of your life that has ended, is one the book doesn’t take a great deal of time to look into, which is a bit of a shame but something that presumably the characters of this universe have come to terms with. For the reader, though, while we begin and end with Carter Langston, the one who ends the book is not the same as the one who started it. It’s similar to the conceit from Michael Chrichton’s Timeline novel, where our characters are travelling in time. For the process to work, the original person must be broken down, destroyed, and transmitted to another place. So is that still the same person who emerges from the other end or does the original die and instead a copy of them picks up the life they left off?

It’s a similar idea here. Because the hardware “core” within the original Carter’s body is destroyed in the opening of the story, the one who finishes the story is a different person. It’s immortality for the IDEA of a single human being, for the concept of a person called “Carter Langston” but along the way there could be dozens of dead ends. Kinda creepy, really.

Musings on the idea of a soul aside, this is a solidly told story that has left me eager to look up other works from this author. It’s well worth checking out for any sci-fi fan and I’m looking forward to seeing if we get any more stories set in this universe.

Re-Coil is out on 3rd March from Titan Books.

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