I recently read Combat Frame XSeed by Brian Niemeier, and I thought I’d talk a little bit about it. I’ve held off this long because the author has expressed a wish for public responses to the book to wait until January. Since tomorrow is January 1st, I thought it close enough.
Full disclosure: I backed this project on Indiegogo, so I’m invested. That being said, I wasn’t sure I was going to like it, because I have struggled getting into Mr. Niemeier’s Soul Cycle books, though I have quite enjoyed his short-form writing (The Hymn of the Pearl and Strange Matter specifically.)
So, the real question is: did I like it? I did, but before I go into detail on that, I want to say that there are a lot of little reasons I might not have liked it–a lot of the themes and tropes in the book are ones I often find dreadfully overdone, and none of the characters were people I felt extremely close to. That being said, Mr. Niemeier handles almost everything expertly, and I felt the themes and tropes that, in the hands of a lesser author bore or offend me, were handled so well as to render them interesting again.
To give an example, this book borrows a lot from the mecha anime it is inspired by. Gundam (and a lot of other mech shows I have seen for two episodes and dropped, for that matter) has a lot of tropes of “New Men” or “supermen”; if I recall correctly, Gundam called them Newtypes (a moment’s searching suggests I am correct.) Unless it is being handled by a grandmaster, I find such tropes to usually be boring at best, or dumb and offensive at worst. When I first saw where Mr. Niemeier was going with a few of his characters, let me just say I was concerned, but he proved my fears ill-founded. His version of the ubermensch are anything but tired, and they fit entirely within the setting provided by the rest of the book.
I can’t say I am a huge mecha anime fan, but I am familiar enough with the standards of the genre to thoroughly enjoy this book; having discussed this with other people who have read the book, it is apparently important to have some familiarity with the general ideas and framing of such shows to get the maximum out of Combat Frame XSeed, and from having tried to share this book with my wife I can safely say it is not for all audiences–if you like tons of characterization and dislike action scenes (as she does), it really is not for you, but having recently tried and been repulsed by some of the other popular mech novels currently on offer from other authors, I would readily say Combat Frame XSeed is a top-notch entry in the genre and I look forward to more.