I don’t remember the last time I “rage quit” a novel and I didn’t this time …but it was close. I actually put it down last night and intended not to pick it up again but my curiosity got the best of me, minutes later in fact. This does not necessarily mean that Conditioned Response by Marjorie F. Baldwin is not a good story in fact quite the contrary. In fact, I find it is often an indicator of the writer’s prowess if they can elicit a strong reaction from their reader.
Shayla didn’t ask to be a Councillor. She’s Phoenician. There’s no good reason for Phoenicians to live among the humans. None, except that the Seven Chiefs had ordered her to do it. They’d entrusted her safety to a human Proctor named Raif. They’d said it was all part of the Plan. Well, the Seven Chiefs could keep their Plan. Shayla had plans of her own now and they didn’t include the Seven Chiefs or the World Council.
Raif had never intended for things to go this far. A few months, maybe a year, and he could send the little Phoenician girl home again, back where she belonged. After more than a decade, she was not a little girl anymore and he couldn’t bring himself to let her go. He had no idea why he’d never seen her like this before but now she was all he could think about. A Proctor shouldn’t think, certainly not about his Councillor that way.
Despite Conditioned Response being the first entry published it has since been identified as the second in the series. I actually would recommend reading The Phoenician Series in the following order, which would depict events in chronological order and thus add to the coherency of the story as a whole.
1. When Minds Collide – Can two men co-exist inside one mind? Andrew Caine and Joshua Scherrer can barely co-exist outside, on the same planet. After they’re involved in a fatal car accident, the enigmatic native Phoenicians have sent someone to “help” them blend together, into a new man.
2. Man Made Man – Proctors don’t think–or they shouldn’t. A Proctor is supposed to follow orders but a Proctor named Raif can’t STOP thinking. He’s different and he knows it. He was MADE differently. Who made him and why?
3. Conditioned Response
4. A First Time for Everything – Upcoming
Imagine a people who seem to have a lot in common with the Native population in North American circa the mid nineteenth century, complete with the group of tribal elders and tent living. As archaic as this may seem Phoenicians have superior strength and are able to manipulate energy to the point where they can cast this energy in a concentrated blast capable of incineration. As such an inter-species relationship would be fraught with risk as humans in comparison are relatively fragile. While the world of the Phoenicians is fascinating it still seemed somewhat primitive in comparison to the technology the humans possessed.
*** SPOILERS AHEAD, DO NOT READ IF YOU HAVE NOT READ CONDITIONED RESPONSE ALREADY OR ARE UNFAMILIAR WITH GAME OF THRONES! ***
While I applaud Ms. Baldwin for taking such a risk with the commonly accepted parameters of contemporary plot-lines I felt that the attempt was ultimately a failure. Without a more developed cast of characters to eliminate a central one, particularly in an somewhat implausible fashion given the rules outlined in the “world” created by the author, ruined the story and destroyed any desire that I had to continue with the series. I will not reveal more as I do not want to entirely spoil the plot for those who have not read Conditioned Response. In contrast, imagine for a moment if George R.R. Martin had arbitrarily lobbed off Ned Stark’s head without a full cast of characters of the likes of Tyrion Lannister, Jon Snow and Joffrey Baratheon just to name a few to fill the void in Game of Thrones. As such the act was shocking but effective in moving the plot forward as war was now inevitable between Martin’s Starks and Lannisters.
Fundamentally, despite Ms. Baldwin’s obvious skill as a writer, I feel Conditioned Response is fatally flawed. If there are not actually “rules” in storytelling, my author friend assured me, there are expectations. However, to successfully violate these expectations requires the expertise of a master storyteller. I feel that Conditioned Response is a solid sci-fi story but the romantic elements are patently unbelievable. What we must remember in the classic words of Morpheus from The Matrix “What you must learn is that these rules are no different than the rules of a computer system. Some of them can be bent. Others can be broken.” Elimination of the central love interest particularly two thirds of the way or more into the story and replacing them sort of is not one of the rules that can be bent or broken in my opinion.
AUTHOR: Marjorie F. Baldwin
RATING: 2 1/2 Stars
GENRE: Sci-fi Romance