Book Review: The Diabolic by S.J. Kincaid

Book Review: The Diabolic by S.J. Kincaid

The Diabolic

By S.J. Kincaid

YA, Science Fiction

A Diabolic is Ruthless.

A Diabolic is Powerful.

A Diabolic has a single task: Kill in order to protect the person you’ve been created for.

Nothing else.

For Nemesis, that person is Sidonia, heir to the galactic Senate. The two grew up side by side, and there’s no one Nemesis wouldn’t kill to keep her safe. But when the power-mad Emperor summons Sidonia to the Imperial Court as a hostage, there is only one way for Nemesis to protect Sidonia.

She must become her.

Now one of the galaxy’s most dangerous weapons is masquerading in a world of corrupt politicians and two-faced Senators’ children, and Nemesis must find within herself the one thing she’s been told she doesn’t have—humanity. With the Empire beginning to fracture and rebellion looming, that could be the one thing that saves her and the Empire itself.

oOo

The writing in Diabolic is A+. But I couldn’t really lose myself in this book. The premise of Diabolics themselves make me a little itchy. The first chapter we meet Nemesis. She’s kept in a cage, like an animal, and Sidonia’s family comes through and chooses her like a puppy at a pet shop. She’s then taken to a laboratory and she’s introduced to Sidonia and *waves hands vaguely* science happens. But the important part is that whatever they do to Nemesis—grow her frontal lobe?—she cannot not love Sidonia. The entire premise of the Diabolics is that they don’t have a choice in these people they are bonded to. People come through and chose them and Science and then they are pair-bonded for life to this person and that never changes. Nemesis has no choice but to love Sidonia, to want to die for her to keep her safe, not because they are friends or lovers or have any sort of intimate bond, but because she has to.

So Diabolics are test tube grown, genetically modified, People who are trained and treated like animals and then when someone comes through and picks them out they are forced to love whoever is put in front of them. They are slaves and they have no choice in their lives nor in their deaths. Nemesis is fully aware that she exists only to keep Sidonia alive and healthy, but all of that is underscored by the “love” she has for Sidonia.

And I just can’t get behind any of that.

But I read through Diabolic really hoping that we’d hit a turning point that would make the first few cringe chapters pay off and…no. There’s an effort made to…do…something? There’s a sci-fi version of a dog fighting gambling ring with genetically modified animals that fight to the death for the Senators’ kids, and Nemesis feels a kinship with them but that’s as far as it goes.

It all feels very clumsy. Like, you can tell the author is trying to make this a story of love and triumph, but the whole issue of Diabolics themselves is never touched on. And it never shakes that itchy cringe feeling of the first chapters. Nemesis is a slave. She is a person who is treated as a thing, an animal, a dog. And I’m just not here for it.

There is a second book called Empress and maybe it does more to fix the issues laid out in Diabolic, but, personally, I’m not invested enough in the story to find out. The Diabolic is a well written book from a technical perspective, I just did not like how the portrayal of slavery, love, and personhood were presented. We all have our hills to die on. While I personally could not recommend The Diabolic, there are plenty other reviewers that say it’s a great read.

If you’d like to give it a go, you can find it at:

Barnes and Noble

Amazon

And learn more about the author: S.J. Kincaid

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Travel Time: Killing Fields

Travel Time: Killing Fields

So this post is about the Killing Fields of Phnom Penh. I’m not posting any pictures because, honestly, I can’t stand to go through them again, but the one I did one back in 2016 has nothing but photos because at the time I couldn’t fathom trying to put into words everything I saw and felt there. This place still haunts me—as I think it does anyone who’s ever been—and I still maintain that there is no way to ever describe what the Killing Fields are. But, two years removed I know that Western-centered education leaves vast swaths of blankness about the rest of the world and there’s probably people who saw that first post and were horrified but didn’t delve any further into the Khmer Rouge or the Killing Fields.

The Khmer Rouge was the name given to the Communist Party of Kampuchea in Cambodia. They were in power for only four years; 1975-1979. I don’t think I ever mentioned how recent the Khmer Rouge was in any of my previous posts. This is something that happened well within living memory, to the point that if your parents had watched the BBC they might’ve seen something about it on the news. It’s that recent. The leader of the Khmer Rouge was a man named Pol Pot. Now, I knew about Pol Pot before I went to Cambodia, because at one point I read a lot about serial killers and crimes against humanity. But even the book I read only briefly mentioned Pol Pot. He didn’t kill as many people as Stalin or Hitler so he was more like a footnote.

Which is pretty messed up. How many millions of people does someone have to kill before they’re worthy of the same level of psychological dissection and obsession as Stalin and Hitler?

After the Khmer Rouge came into power in ’75, they forcibly evacuated all major cities in Cambodia. Why? Pol Pot wanted to create an agrarian socialist society. An agrarian socialist society is, essentially, a farm-based economy. There was no need for technological or educational revolutions or research because everyone was going to live life simply and happily on farms, living off the land, sharing what they grew. People were forced into Collective Farms, which is exactly what it sounds like. Communal farms where people were used as slave labor in fields.

Anyone who disagreed with this idea was promptly labeled an “elitist” and killed. Most of the people labeled as “enemies” of the Khmer Rouge were educated people. Doctors, lawyers, teachers, anyone with a college degree. Pol Pot himself was college educated and had spent time abroad in France which is where he’d been introduced to the idea of Marxist and Lenin communism. He was also paranoid, delusional, and narcissistic.

Between the mass killing of his “enemies” malnutrition and horrid living conditions on the Collective Farms, 1.5-3 million people died out of a population of 8 million. 25% of Cambodia’s population at the time. The Killing Fields of Phnom Penh are the most famous, but there are more all over the country and the set up is very similar to that of German concentration camps. People were rounded up and driven to the camps, bound and gagged. Once they arrived they were stripped of all personal belongings and clothes. Mass pits were dug, people—not always soldiers—killed the victims with things like scythes and saws, they used bayonets and axes and dumped the bodies into the pits before covering them with DDT so if anyone managed to survive being hacked at with an axe, the DDT would suffocate them. Infants and small children were swung against trees until their skulls cracked. Women and girls were raped repeatedly before being killed.

Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge finally fell out of power and had to flee when Pol Pot attacked neighboring Vietnam and started slaughtering people there as well. The Vietnamese army quickly overwhelmed the Khmer Rouge forces and they fled to the border of Thailand. Vietnam established a new government in Cambodia in opposition to Pol Pot. But Pol Pot and the remainder of the Khmer Rouge stayed at their base until the 90s, still internationally recognized as Cambodia’s rightful government. Which is an insult I cannot begin to fathom. Pol Pot died under house arrest in 1998. No trial. Nothing but a slap on the wrist and a stern talking to for murdering 3 million people.

So that’s the history I couldn’t write about two years ago after visiting the Killing Fields of Phnom Penh. Writing about it even now brings back all those complicated feelings I didn’t know what to do with back then; horror, disgust, and the sharp edge of anger. Always anger. Because how many of us knew about Pol Pot? We spend weeks on WWII and Hitler but we never talk about how the Nuremburg Laws were modeled after American race laws. We overlook the fact that Hitler praised American genocide of Native Americans.

Pol Pot was an extreme xenophobe and nativist. He set out, much like Hitler, to “cleanse” Cambodia of minorities and religions he found undesirable or subversive. He tried to eliminate religion in its entirety like Mao Zedong in China. Mao is another one nobody every fucking talks about. But we’ll get to that in the China posts. Or, you can look him up now and fill in some of those blind spots our Western-centric education leaves us with.