Crache is a stand-alone novel set in the same biopunk future as Mark Budz' debut Clade. Color me disappointed. I just never got deeply involved in the story, and for the most part, I attribute this to Budz' style-heavy prose. He writes this tale in present tense, which I've said before always calls attention to itself in a way that almost always takes me out of the story. Just as you are not supposed to notice such things as editing when you watch a movie, when reading a book you should not notice the author's writing. Also, Budz tries out an ensemble cast for Crache, whereas Clade was anchored by a traditional protagonist. Sadly, none of the characters is particularly well-developed; at least, not to a point where they came alive for me and engendered my sympathy and involvement. Bummer. I was really looking forward to this one.
Though Crache isn't a direct sequel to Clade, readers who haven't read that book may have a hard time getting a handle on Budz' future. Just remember that, following a global environmental disaster called the Ecocaust, biotechnology now runs everything. Human beings are genetically engineered and modified out the wazoo. Social engineering has been fine-tuned through assigning people into "clades" by programming them with pherions that determine where they may live, work, or even shop and eat. Governments have been taken over by corporations.
In Crache, an arcology located on a distant Kuiper Belt object named Mymercia experiences a disaster when something unindentified begins to reprogram the arcology's ecotecture. Several workers are killed. It appears to be some kind of entertainment software gone horribly wrong. Some victims have advertising and old movie stills embedded in their flesh, which could, I suppose, be seen as ironic cultural commentary on Budz' part. But no one can figure out where this has come from, or how bad it could get. On Earth, a woman in a migrant workers' camp comes down with a bizarre illness that is held at bay by the music of a failed Mexican rock star, whose songs feature lyrics that seem to inhibit the infection's growth. Is it the same thing that has hit Mymercia?
This sounds like a can't-miss premise, and it ought to be. But try as I might, I could never get into this book. Again, I blame the wafer-thin characters and showy writing — that present-tense thing, plus, there's barely a paragraph in the entire novel that doesn't contain a plethora of snazzy SFnal biotech jargon. It's as if Budz is single-handedly trying to expand the Oxford English Dictionary by 10%. As for the characters, perhaps if so many of them didn't have bad puns for names, I might have related to them more. L. Mariachi. Adipose Rexx. And it gets even worse for the Information Agents, little AI's that each character possesses as a sidekick. Num Nut. Ida Claire. It's the sort of thing indicative of a writer waving his arms and shouting "Aren't I clever?" But the names really aren't the key problem, just another stylistic nuisance. The key problem is that, with the possible exception of the musician L. Mariachi, about whom we get just a sufficient amount of backstory to make him fairly three-dimensional, no one in the book comes across as a fully fleshed-out human being.
As in Clade, Budz' worldbuilding is top-notch. The best scenes in Crache are the ones redolent with atmosphere, in which the setting comes eerily alive. But these are fleeting moments that became harder and harder to hold onto, as I realized I really hadn't been given any sense of stake in the plot's unfolding crisis. I hope, in his next book, that Mark Budz lets his talents flow more naturally, and that he isn't so eager to allow his writing to overpower his story.