Hullmetal Girls by Emily Skrutskie
My rating: 2 of 5 stars
I was originally going to give this three stars, but the more I thought about it the more I realized a particular aspect of the worldbuilding really bugged me. And since the thing that bothered me is integral to the entire novel, I couldn't justify saying I liked it anymore.
There are good things about this book, especially the character of Aisha. Honestly, I think the book would have been better had it been told from her POV alone, cutting out Key Tanaka entirely. Aisha was the more interesting character, had the most development and the deeper journey. None of this applies to Key Tanaka, and it seems to me her character would have worked best viewed from the outside, rather than alternating first-person POV chapters. (Specifically, the one chapter written from the POV of her earlier persona, the Archangel, felt shallow and rushed and unnecessary. If the author didn't have the time or space to fully explore what that previous personality experienced and meant to the overall story, it would have been best to leave it out.)
All of this could have been fixed, though, with another draft and better editing. The thing that really bugged me, and ultimately turned me off to the book, cannot.
That's the entire concept of the Scela.
We're talking here about humans transformed into human/AI/metal hybrids. Cyborgs. A human body cut apart and rebuilt, with a second spine, extra supports driven into the flesh and fused to the bones (because the original skeleton sure as heck can't support the stress of being a Scela), and the body sawn apart and lengthened one to two feet beyond its original height. (Both Aisha and Key repeatedly say they're now seven feet tall, and that's even before they strap into their full cyborg exorigs.) It's described like this. [Content warning for body horror.]
When the surgeons come in, when the steady hands start the work of my unmaking, I let that hope curdle inside my chest, let it distance me from the sight of my body being flayed and broken and reshaped. My flesh peels back. My bones are sawed and spaced and lengthened. Endoscopes burrow through me, paving metal highways along my skeleton, weaving matrices of nanofibers through my muscles, sewing new circuitry into my nerves. Ports blossom from my skin, promising a place in my anatomy for the metal rig that will make me nigh unstoppable. The surgeons work with careful precision, all too aware of what they're crafting, leaning over me with something like holy reverence in their eyes.
Another brief description:
And that just reminds me of all the other metal laced through my biology, of the exorig clamped onto my spine, of the way a wicked ridge now rises out of my split, shaved skull--
And I'm thinking (not then, but later): Oh hell no, this absolutely cannot work. These people may be living aboard spaceships, but they still have freaking germs, and the Scela, with their open, metal-laced wounds, would all die of massive bacterial infections before they even learned how to operate their exorigs.
(Yeah, I'm sure all this futuristic stuff is coated with antibacterial solutions. The thing is, though, that bacteria evolve. They spawn a new generation every 20 minutes, sometimes. Bacterial resistance to antibiotics is an ongoing problem in our world, and for the life of me I can't figure out why the author didn't take this into consideration or even mention it.)
Needless to say, this thoroughly wrecked my suspension of disbelief. If you can get past that, more power to you. Like I said, there are good things about this book. But this threw me completely out of the story, and I was never really able to get back into it.
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