Reviewed by Shona Kinsella
Vice Womb Age is the first in a proposed four book saga entitled Reliving Earth by M Colin Alston.
Before merging into a single story around half-way through the book, there are two subplots. A powerful, no nonsense warrior and representative of an all female religious movement (The Vice Womb Age) is responsible for the safe return of young pilgrims travelling through woods occupied by cannibalistic humans infected with a DNA mutating virus. While this goes on, a biotechnologically enhanced young man – nothing more than a concubine to the cult leader of the religion – struggles with a desire for revenge after a personal tragedy years earlier (which is explored later in the book through flashbacks).
The religion in question has a detailed and structured hierarchy, where the women are ranked based on their standings within the movement, as well as the level of “seduct sutras”, chemical enhancements whose “sole purpose of coercion; attaining control and domination through hypersexual arousal and manipulation”. The women are promoted through the ranks by chemically seducing men who become very unfortunate victims of sacrifice.
The cult revolves heavily around symbolism of female power, with genitalia being the main symbol.
Alston displays a very detailed imagination in his world. It is clear that Alston is very passionate about the saga he has created and has put a lot of thought into the religion. Whilst I enjoy figuring out the elements of an author’s world building on my own, the hierarchy is admittedly overwhelming at first, as there is no clear explanation of the rankings throughout the book. At the end, Alston informs readers that there is a glossary on the book series’ website explaining all the alien terms throughout. I found this helpful in better understanding the book retrospectively, but perhaps this glossary would be more suited at the start of the book as a reference for readers.
I struggled with the character development in this book. The protagonists are not very sympathetic with questionable moral traits and treatment of others. A protagonist doesn’t always have to be likeable but in cases where they are not, the reader generally expects them to become a better person over the course of the story or suffer for their faults. This does not happen during the course of Vice Womb Age – although it is only the first of four books so this arc may take longer to play out.
One of the things that stands out, for better or worse, is the graphic description of sex and violence throughout. Any fans of the splatterpunk genre – most notably Richard Laymon – will not mind reading the explicit language in the killing sprees and sexual encounters. However, at times the language used could be considered too crass for some readers so this book comes with a strong content warning. Ultimately, these scenes reduced my enjoyment of the book.
Alston has the foundations of a well-structured world which could flourish given time and space enough but the subject matter is not to my taste so I ma unlikely to read more in this series.