Book: 7th Son: Descent by J. C. Hutchins

Alas, not an especially interesting a story and not especially well told

October 12, 2010

J. C. Hutchins

7th Son: Descent

St Martin’s, 2009

ISBN: 978-0-312-38437-1

356 pages


7th Son: Descent is the first book in a science-fiction trilogy by J. C. Hutchins. As of this writing, it is the only volume of the trilogy that has been published in the traditional way. It’s also available for free in various downloadable formats from the author’s site. Audiobooks of all three novels are available (1, 2, 3) at the series’s site.

Unfortunately for the reviewer, the book is very much driven by its plot. Various elements of the story are revealed as it goes along. And I can’t explain why the story is pretty uninspired without explaining what the story is. For that reason, spoilers considerably beyond my usual practice follow. The reader might be well-advised to click over to the author’s site and read the first few chapters of the book. If you enjoy them, read and enjoy the book and ignore the rest of this review.

The book is set in pretty-much present-day America. In the book’s prologue, the president is murdered by a four year old boy. In the book’s first chapter, seven men, mostly pretty ordinary, but a few somewhat unusual, are plucked from their daily lives by the government and taken to some sort of secure facility. Some require more persuasion than others, but none is given a choice. Once they’re gathered together, it’s explained to them that they’re clones. And that the memories of their first fourteen years of life aren’t their own.

A child was conceived and raised, humanely, by military experts who pretended to be his parents. At the age of fourteen, his memories were recorded and downloaded into the empty minds of seven vat-grown clones of him. Using a traffic accident as an excuse, the seven clones were given into the care of other government employees who pretended to be aunts and uncles. At that point, the clones were encouraged to follow different paths. The clones had been observed secretly over the years, but only as a matter of long-term research. It had never been intended to bring them together. That might have happened with different clones, in a later stage of research. The long-term goal of the research was to create teams that were excellent at problem-solving because they would share various valuable qualities but each have a specialty.

But these clones have been brought together because their original (John “Alpha”) has gone missing and is implicated in the assassination of the president. Indeed, it seems that he’s intent on creating as much chaos and destruction as possible. They’re given a puzzling audio file that was found at the home of the woman they remember as their mother, who is now missing. It was meant to be found and meant to cause them to be gathered together to figure out what it means. Their analysis leads to an abandoned nightclub in Los Angeles which some of them, along with some soldiers, intend to assault.

That is, they and the military people who run the facility where they were created are being manipulated by John Alpha. They know that they’re being manipulated and that John Alpha is very smart, probably very malevolent, and has planned what he’s doing for some considerable time. And they decide to do what he wants because they don’t really have any other very good ideas. I can’t imagine anyone reading the story who would think that there’s any question other than how big a disaster that’s going to be.

It’s also unclear what John Alpha’s motivation is. It might be upsetting to learn that you were the template for a group of clones and that the people you thought were your parents had been raising you according to a plan conceived by the government. But it’s not obvious to me why someone who learned that would want to create general chaos and destruction.

There may be all sorts of interesting things in the other two books. And they may come about as a result of what has been set up in this one, but that story and its ending don’t really motivate me to read them.

There’s an additional problem. I’m very impressed that Mr Hutchins made the book a success on the internet before it was published by a traditional publisher. But there are more than a few instances where an editor’s hand might have made for smoother reading. Charles Stoss has recently observed that the suspension of disbelief that’s necessary to enjoy a novel can be punctured when an author gets something obviously wrong. A really infelicitous metaphor will do it for me too. Here are some examples of both from the book:

    politics as volatile as nitroglycerin

    (p. 11)

Nitroglycerin isn’t actually very volatile. Its vapor pressure is quite low.

    By the time the seventh “twin” came through the door

    (p. 29)

    my black, knit gloves with the fraying leather palms

    (p. 49)

    Last night’s conversation was still baking his noodle — it felt both tangible and


    (p. 62)

    important and long-forgotten information can be accessed and remembered in


    (p. 80)

A picosecond is a trillionth of a second. Nothing about human memory operates that quickly.

    The colossal thirty-inch flat-screen monitor

    (p. 87)

    A steel-gray lectern

    (p. 92)

    the silver lectern

    (p. 95)

    He looked like a warrior whose time had come, John reckoned; a hawk, born for

    combat, a black dragon mystically contained in human form.

    (pp. 95-96)

    The giggles tickled inside John’s churning stomach

    (p. 106)

    hellfire potassium chloride

    (p. 161)

Potassium chloride will stop a person’s heart if a solution of it is injected into a blood vessel. But in ordinary circumstances it is an unremarkable white powder and is used in, among other things, fertilizers, dry-chemical fire extinguishers, and table-salt substitutes.

    pilot was under orders to redline it the whole trip from Virginia to California

    (p. 206)

A jet airplane that is flown on a longish flight with its engines making the maximum power that they can produce (takeoff/go-around power) would likely not arrive because its engines would fail before then (TOGA power is routinely limited to five minutes). A jet airplane flown on a longish flight with its engines at maximum continuous thrust would likely not arrive because it couldn’t carry sufficient fuel (jet engines aren’t very efficient at MCT).

    He wanted to pray, relentlessly so

    (p. 210)

    We basically hold leaders responsible for the inequity that always seems to be

    brewing beneath the surface in most countries.

    (p. 219)

Mr Hutchins may have meant “iniquity”.

    They’re shifting their CPUs into secURL shells.

    (p. 224)

    piled on the eggs and bacon and scarfed it down with a shit-eating grin

    (p. 228)

    A side of Rookman enjoyed these insipid power struggles

    (p. 239)

    The engines exploded into a symphonic drone and the chopper jerked upward.

    (p 245)

That’s describing an ordinary takeoff.

    The swinging bulbs above created more shadow than light

    (p. 311)

    There’s a tanker’s worth of JP-8 under the building rigged to explode.

    (p. 336)

Jet fuel is, pretty nearly, kerosene and is intentionally pretty hard to make explode. The unfortunate, notable exceptions occur when the fuel has already been thoroughly mixed with air.

    watched this through the portholes of their helicopter

    (p. 340)

That’s not a comprehensive list.

The book’s premise is intriguing and I think it’s excellent that Mr Hutchins has found an interested audience online. But with an uninspired plot in this volume and more than a few stylistic mis-steps, it’s hard for me to recommend the book.