By Satoshi Hase and redjuice. Released in Japan by Kadokawa Bunko. Released in North America digitally by J-Novel Club. Translated by Ben Gessel.
Another long, long book – the longest light novel I have digitally, in fact – and again, I feel it would have been fine if Beatless had been four lengthy books rather than two huge ones. That said, the author clearly thinks of it as one story, as the second volume just picks up where the first one left off and moves forward. There’s lots of cool action set pieces, lots of dead extras, lots of dead hIEs (who then come back to life quite a lot), and a whole lot of philosophizing on the nature of artificial intelligence and the way that it interacts with humanity. If this sounds like I’m parroting my last review, it’s no surprise, this really doesn’t introduce new themes or concepts into the book, it’s just more of the same. This is not to say the book gets dull – there’s always something happening – and the characters are quite interesting. But the book is making a point, and spends several hundred pages making that point.
I’d mentioned that the hIEs tend to die but not really be dead, most of that due to the very nature of how they live – it’s not like hitting their “heart” will kill them. Kouka spends much of the first quarter of the book having a Last Stand before she’s finally taken down, only to be rebuilt into twelve Kouka clones for the finale. Snowdrop is killed, then returns, and then is killed again, and returns again, to the point where she starts to resemble Jason Voorhees more than anything else. She’s easily the creepiest of the five main hIE cast. Methode spends her time being absolutely furious at anything and everything, and unfortunately is the least interesting because of it, though she doesn’t deserve her fate. (OK, I will admit, Mariage is the least interesting, but that’s mostly as her owner doesn’t let her do much of anything – it’s hard to be a major player when you aren’t in the battle.). And then there’s Lacia.
I admit that the nature of how Lacia attacks is quite clever, the best idea in the book, and the seeds were planted earlier with her work as a model. She and Arato make a great couple, to the point where we hate it when he loses his nerve and distrusts her, even though everyone and their brother points out why she’s incredibly dangerous. It all comes down to the question of how do you want humanity to move forward? Standing on the backs of the machines they created, or holding the hands of said machines? Honestly, I think humanity made this decision when they decided to make hIEs look like people. Their role is strangely sexless – Lacia again mentions functions she can’t use with Arato till he’s 18, but honestly there’s never any sense that anyone uses hIEs for sex – and also quite undefined, by design. Even the computer that runs everything, Higgins, is frustrated, to the point where he engineered all this just to be able to move forward.
I haven’t seen the anime, but I understand that the novel and anime end slightly differently, so you may want to check both out. I enjoyed Beatless, but, much like the hIEs themselves, I enjoyed it in a strangely emotionless way. There’s little humor – in fact, the only really good joke in the book comes right at the end – and little passion aside from the slow burn of Arato and Lacia. If you like futuristic SF, I’d give it a whirl.