This is a review of the Audible audiobook version of Richard Hummel’s Radioactive Evolution. It’s read by Armen Taylor and Anneliese Rennie. A few seconds into the book and you’ll discover that Armen Taylor would make (and probably has been) an excellent Voice-Over-Man.
Radioactive Evolution is a LitRPG. That’s a literary role-playing game; a book that combines sci-fi with elements of tabletop RPGs. Which parts? Stats and levelling.
I have limited LitRPG experience but enjoyed it so far. I’ve read the English translation of Fuse’s That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime. That’s certainly a LitRPG as the hero, Rimuru, has a skill which lets him consume other monsters skills, adding them to his/its own, and the Great Sage voice is akin the Game Master speaking up occasionally.
Based on the press releases Geek Native gets there appears to be growing interest in LitRPG and That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime seems to be in the leading pack, and it is now available as a popular anime on Crunchyroll. I imagine the ‘trapped in a game’ genre and titles like Log Horizon and Sword Art Online have played a part too.
In some ways; Radioactive Evolution has a better, smarter and more exciting set-up.
It’s not magic that enables Jared Cartwright, Radioactive Evolution’s hero, to power-up but technology and its contagious. Therefore it may not just be Jared with the ability to view his stats and consider improvements.
This adventure is set on Earth after the apocalypse. Mankind is surrounded by dangerously mutated creatures and has become reliant on regular injections of nanotech to avoid death.
There are two ways to get hold of these life-preserving nanotech injections; as a handout from the floating cities of the rich and aloof who control the skies or by salvage. Jared is a scavenger, looking for salvage and treasure in the ruins of the world before.
We kick into adventure RPG mode when Jared encounters a dragon. Scarlet is voiced by Anneliese Rennie and is absolutely my favourite character.
Scarlet acts as the Game Master. It’s Scarlet who enables Jared to use the nanomachines to power-up. She even makes a skill list for him, helps him with selections and understanding what his options are. He does try and put nanotech into boosting his mental abilities, rather than just into physical skills, but I wish he did this more often and sooner. I’ll pick a fight with Jared at the end of this review.
Once Scarlet and Jared are suitably connected Radioactive Evolution turns into the narration of a solo RPG.
Jared is attacked by monsters, kills them and uses their nanotech (experience points substitute) to power up. Jared and Scarlet start to hunt bigger and meaner monsters to kill them, absorb their nanotech and push on to the next fight. Rinse. Repeat.
Why? For justice! Getting powerful is the only way the pair can see to the right the wrong of the world. It’s hard to decide whether dragons are fierce apex predators or wise and rational protectors that make mankind look like thugs.
It’s important to settle in for the ride at this point. If you can’t cope with Radioactive Evolution being anything other than one man working his way through some random encounters and roughly in the direction of some campaign goal, then I suspect you’ll be waiting for a plot twist that never comes. That’s fine with me. I was eager to see how a LitRPG would work as an audiobook, and I think Armen Taylor and Anneliese Rennie do an excellent job.
Overall, though, I’ve a mixed opinion of Radioactive Evolution. I liked the narration, the concept and world but I had problems with the so-called hero; Jared Cartwright.
Jared is a man who sobs uncontrollably about the wrongs of unnecessary death and injury only then to form a battle plan that involves lobbing bricks of high-explosive off the back of a flying dragon. You won’t be surprised at what happens after that, but Jared was.
Equally, Jared wants people to take care of themselves and make their own decisions. He appoints someone as the leader of a group of refugees he rescues. Try and count how many seconds it is before he then undermines that leader, making a whole host of decisions and appointments for the refugees; including forcing them to give up their homes and move elsewhere.
If it sounds like you might not like Jared either then be careful. If you don’t immediately take to him, then the chances are high he’ll use his (finally) developing mental powers to spy on your thoughts. It’s certain that he’ll refuse to give you back the supplies from your own home until you surrender to his plans.
Does a main character like Jared ruin the story? Not for me. I enjoyed sympathising with one of the refugees who refused to like Jared. I enjoyed pretending this was all Scarlet’s mission in which she has to cope with these pesky humans. I’ve played in more than enough RPGs to recognise how PCs talk to and treat NPCs. That relationship is what you get here and viewing Jared as a PC making his way through a deadly RPG landscape is what Radioactive Evolution needs.
It’s interesting looking again at the overlaps with That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime. In both stories, the heroes very quickly race to epic levels of power and begin to carve out little empires (in the name of good) for themselves. I imagine the attraction of LitRPG isn’t just escapism, though that’s certainly a part, it is also escapism qualified by RPG mechanics so that gamers reading the story can be confident they would do as well in a similar situation. I’m pretty sure if I had Scarlet guiding me, and a stock of nanobots, that I’d do as well as Jared or Rimaru. I guess that’s why I actually wanted Jared to win, rather than been eaten by angry rabbits.
I’m glad I gave Radioactive Evolution a shot. It doesn’t break into my top three at Audible, but it is certainly enjoyable enough to put LitRPG onto my ‘things to consider buying’ radar. Let’s hope Audible starts to include more of them in their necessary 2-for-1 and 3-for-2 sales.
My copy of Radioactive Evolution was provided for review.