The Ultra Thin Man by Patrick Swenson

Genre: Science Fiction

Publisher: Tor on August 1, 2014

Source: Publisher

My thanks to Tor and NetGalley for providing me with a digital review copy. No compensation was provided for this review, and all opinions are my own.

Rating StarRating Star

In the twenty-second century, a future in which mortaline wire controls the weather on the settled planets and entire refugee camps drowse in drug-induced slumber, no one—alive or dead, human or alien—is quite what they seem. View Spoiler »

Warning: you are now entering a rant-filled zone. 

The Ultra Thin Man introduces us to the interplanetary Union, a political body comprised of a handful of planets – including Earth – and uniting several species. Humans live among Memors and Helks, alien species that made contact with Earth’s scientists. The Network Intelligence Organization is tasked with monitoring political dissent and combatting terrorism; unfortunately they’ve been kept quite busy this year, as the terrorist Terl Plenko attempts to dismantle the Union by sowing seeds of discontent. The NIO is so busy, in fact, that they hire former private detectives Alan Brindos and Dave Crowell as consultants on the case.

Although the political landscape has shifted and the threats to dominant powers have changed, some things remain the same: people still have a tough time dealing with difference and as a result there’s considerable animosity directed towards these non-humans. There is particular prejudice directed towards Helks, who cannot blend into society the way that humanoid Memors can. A Helk’s physical appearance is closer to that of a gorilla than a human being, with their muscular bodies, incredible stature, and of course their fur. Many humans call them “Hulks,” a derogatory word referring to both their size and the super hero of yore. It doesn’t help matters that the infamous Terl Plenko is a Helk.

The examination of prejudice and difference was the strongest aspect of the novel, particularly since it was basically the only way we got any world building. 99% of what’s revealed about Memors and Helks comes through a massive info dump after someone uses the term “Hulk.”

Oh, we’re told that there are hyper-speed jumps to other planets (heavily controlled, TSA style), machines that regulate weather, and cloning. How? Why? Science.  Also aliens. “Our narrators aren’t scientists and don’t understand it, so why should we?” is not an excuse for laziness. World build, damn it!

As you can probably tell, I thought Swenson’s writing left a lot to be desired. The very first page of The Ultra Thin Man contains the phrase “the private detective biz.” Biz. BIZ. How did this get past an editor? Does that not set your teeth on edge? AM I CRAZY?*

As if the use of “biz” wasn’t gag-worthy enough, when Brindos visits a woman in the hospital he notes that:

“She was attractive the way a pretty librarian seems sexy with her glasses off.”

Now maybe it’s just me, but that line does not put me in a very forgiving mood. Maybe it’s the librarian dig. Or maybe it’s the fact that apparently glasses aren’t sexy (salient point: I wear glasses). But it’s probably the fact that these things combine to objectify a woman IN THE HOSPITAL.

There’s also some confusion about exactly who’s narrating and when. Alan Brindos and Dave Crowell’s voices are almost completely identical. Tough, emotionally closed-off, and cerebral bachelors, these two are the quintessential private detectives. It’s no surprise that they once ran their own business. Oops, I mean biz. There are also several instances where the narration inexplicably changes from first to third person. Now, I read an uncorrected proof so this will probably be fixed, but it definitely took away from my reading experience.

In terms of character development, there is none. Swenson very sloppily gathers some personality traits to put together two very stereotypical private investigators, including the requisite loner status and abandonment issues. Swenson uses a little aside quite early in The Ultra Thin Man to tell us that Brindos doesn’t like the feeling of instability because he was a foster kid. Seriously, he does it just like that. One sentence.

Crowell’s character is similarly developed: in one of the chapters he narrates, Crowell states that he “sort of loved [Clara] but never really told her” and now he has regrets. He sort of loved her but never really told her. Personally I think it’s a good idea to pass on declaring your sort of love for someone, but hey, what do I know?

I’m sure that some of the more obvious problems with The Ultra Thin Man will be solved after a thorough copy edit but I wouldn’t bother picking up a finished copy of this book to double check. Honestly I probably should’ve DNFed this book but my NetGalley ratio is dismal so I slogged through.

The Ultra Thin Man: don’t say I didn’t warn you.

*Not a rhetorical question.



  1. Well, yikes. I received this book from the publisher unsolicited so I’m not as pressured to review it, but I was thinking of checking it out if I have time. Sorry it didn’t work out very well for you, I hope I’ll like it better, but the lack of world building/science is worrisome. I tend to demand those kinds of answers 😛

    ~Mogsy @ BiblioSanctum

    1. Totally agree on demanding answers. I can handle vague world building as long as the author gives you some small scrap of an explanation, but that never happened here. I’ll definitely be curious as to your thoughts if you decide to give it a go.

  2. Hahaha, you had to read a cruddy book!

    NetGalley ratio? I have put ‘Did not finish, here is why’ into the feedback area more than once.

    1. Hmmm…why didn’t I think of that? My here’s why part probably would’ve just been the librarian quote. Maybe I should do that next time. Sad face. Oh well, on to the next one!

  3. Rants rarely mean that the reviewer liked the book, but they are darned entertaining to read. Hehe But yeah, this sounds like an abysmal book, but kudos to you for not DNF’ing it, although your reason for pushing through is kinda funny. I don’t like wasting my money on first drafts posing as finalized copies, so thank you for the heads up, and for livening up my Monday with your rant. 🙂

    1. They’re pretty fun to write, too! It almost makes reading this worth it. Almost. I’m glad you enjoyed it, Carmel! 🙂

    • Lisa (@TenaciousReader)

    • 8 years ago

    heh, well, I’m quite grateful I didn’t request this one. Sorry you had to slog through it

    1. I saw that it was published by Tor and I usually love their stuff, but this was a swing and a miss (in my mind). Hopefully my book karma has evened out and now I’ll be blessed with a really good one!

  4. Sort of loved lol. Yeah I didn’t think this one would be for me. But Kat decided to grab it and she’ll be reading/reviewing it soon. Hopefully she doesn’t come across your review too soon and get scared away cause yeah those are some healthy gripes LOL.

    I KNEW this one totally wasn’t going to be for me. Just too I don’t know not Tabitha haha.

    1. Hahahaha, OH NO! I’ll definitely be reading Kat’s review – something tells me we’ll be able to commiserate. 😉 This is what I get for branching out and trying something new, apparently! I’m probably going to wait to see what other people say before I dip my toe into the hard SF pool any time soon.

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