Monday, November 12, 2012

REVIEW: Non-Compliance: The Sector / Paige Daniels

I read this novel back when Paige Daniels self-published it. It has since been edited and re-released by Kristell Ink.

TITLE: Non-Compliance: The Sector
AUTHOR: Paige Daniels
PUBLISHER: Kristell Ink
AVAILABILITY: Amazon US (Kindle e-book), Amazon UK (Kindle e-book)

Recommended for fans of cyberpunk, dystopia, and stories featuring strong, realistic heroines

Science Fiction—Cyberpunk

Non-Compliance features the kind of “high tech, low life” setting that’s common among cyberpunk novels. The main character, Shea Kelly, is a resourceful engineer and hacker living on the edge of a dystopic society. The descriptions of technology are kept vague enough so that the reader knows what’s going on without getting bogged down in details. References to current vintage items, such as a 1971 Plymouth Barracuda, suggest that the story could be taking place in an alternate version of today.

Non-Compliance has an action-and-release type of rhythm. There are several fast-paced action scenes and tense build-ups typical of page-turners. At the same time, Daniels takes the time to develop her characters and her world. There are many “slice-of-life” types of scenes that depict what Shea’s life in the NCS is like and how she interacts with those around her.

First person present. Shea narrates the story as it unfolds and describes events as they happen.

Shea Kelly chose to live in the Non-Compliance Sector of the United States, which has become a shade of its former self following a disastrous international war, rather than be implanted with a chip that would store her personal information. Spirited, strong-willed, and intelligent, she makes a living as a bartender and moonlights as a hacker-for-hire. The Non-Compliance Sector, or NCS, was meant to be a “separate-but-equal” arrangement but effectively forces its residents into lives of poverty and desperation. As Shea points out, most people don’t last that long and willingly sacrifice their privacy for basic human needs and comforts.

Frustrated by the bullying and shenanigans of a new gangster in town, Shea reaches out to the NCS’s established crime lord, whose name is Robert Jennings but is simply called Boss by most people. Boss may be a mobster who demands payment in exchange for protection, but unlike the newcomer, Danny, he maintains order and allows life to run smoothly. The presence of Danny and his thugs threatens to destroy whatever freedom is left. As Shea puts it, “We came out here so we couldn’t be controlled by others and so we could make a difference, but the joke’s on us. We’re just two little cogs in the big piece of machinery.”

Daniels paints a vivid picture of Shea’s life in this rough world. Because the government limits what kinds of goods can be sent to the NCS, she and her best friend, Wynne, use their computer skills to change the shipping orders and procure useful items, such as flour. Despite the bleakness of her situation, Shea has no desire to leave the NCS. At the very least, she can keep her independence here. She regularly clashes with drunken bar patrons and ruthless thugs, sometimes getting severely injured, and yet she takes her punches with her head held high. She truly isn’t afraid of anything—not the goons, not the government, not the ongoing hardships of her life.

Shea eventually joins forces with Boss’s right-hand man, Quinn Knightly, to find out what Danny’s master plan is and get rid of him before he takes over the NCS. Some of the most captivating scenes in Non-Compliance are the dialogues between these two characters. Whereas Shea is a tough-talking smart aleck, Quinn is the strong-and-silent type who prefers to communicate via growls. Shea knows all too well how to infuriate Quinn, and Quinn responds by pushing her buttons. Although Shea regularly calls Quinn a jerk and says that she despises him, the atmosphere sizzles with chemistry whenever the two are alone together. One is baking soda and the other is vinegar—put them together and things start fizzing, and you watch their effervescence in eager fascination.

Shea intentionally adopts a sexier persona when sniping with Quinn, playing a character to get under his skin. Although she presents a strong front to those around her, her first person narration allows the reader to glimpse the vulnerability underneath. Externally, she’s as tough as nails and seemingly invulnerable, even when getting beaten up. And yet she never misses an opportunity to talk to her father, cares deeply about her friends, and is somewhat insecure about her looks. Her narration is straightforward, blunt, and sometimes curt, as though she wants to get her point across to the reader without wasting her breath on whining or flowery descriptions. Even in her internal monologues, she doesn’t say much about her emotions, and yet her meanings are clearly conveyed by the context.

Through her eyes, the reader is shown a fascinating possible future in which comfort is the price one must pay for independence and true freedom is virtually non-existent. Non-Compliance plays on the well-known tropes of cyberpunk, such as invasive technology and a rebellious protagonist, and adds its own spin through Shea’s unique voice. The futuristic technology fades into the background, and it’s treated as a given fact of the setting rather than the center of attention. By zooming in on one woman’s life, it allows the reader to experience the novel’s world in an up-close-and-personal manner, making for an engaging and absorbing story.

This novel has been edited since the version I read, so I cannot comment on things such as typos, etc.

This novel contains adult language, including prolific use of the “F” word. There is sexual tension but no sex scenes. Some of the action scenes can be violent, but there's nothing gruesome or graphic.

[From’s author page]

Paige Daniels is the pen name for Tina Closser. When she isn't busy with her nine to five job as an electrical engineer she helps her husband with a small hobby farm complete with a mini horse, cows, and sheep. In between farm duties and running the kids to gymnastics she likes to write, thus the creation of this novel.


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