Cameron Maddock, who goes by Cam, isn’t just your average twenty-something gay tech guy in San Francisco avoiding his less-than-accepting family. He’s a cyber-security genius. But that doesn’t explain why an apparent alien assassin is pursuing him.
Robert Roth’s Into the Lightning Gate is a fast-paced, pulpy sci-fi snack with a solid, high-concept base that hits all the right notes. It’s a cocktail of easily accessible action, comic book infused tech, and mysterious motivations, enriched by its young gay multiracial lead.
Cam knows he’s different from the people around him. Apart from being prodigiously smart, he’s always been an outcast, for either his colour, or his sexuality. When his apartment is broken into, his first thought is that it’s a disgruntled cyber-security client of his, but when they attempt to kidnap him he is surprisingly able to defend himself against professionals. There’s a little voice in his head telling him there’s likely more to his story than he realises.
Think of it as The Long Kiss Goodnight meets The Last Starfighter, as Cam’s newfound abilities throw him into the middle of a multiversal, sci-fi action-thriller. There are plenty of mass-market sci-fi elements on display here and Roth knows how to craft a real rollercoaster of a story. The sci-fi mainly consist of easily digestible concepts—teleports, multiverses, body-hacking—any viewer of TV shows like The Expanse, Star Trek or Doctor Who will be familiar with. Roth’s strengths lie in his ability to imprint a strong image in your mind and choreograph an action sequence that makes this an action-adventure page-turner.
As for the queer content, this is gay with a lower-case ‘g’. Cam spends most of the book on the run, and while his attraction to his bisexual rescuer/ally, Finn, is clear—and clearly mutual—there’s no time to explore it further.
At times, Roth’s characters are a little two-dimensional, from a Russian who speaks with a broad accent straight out of a Bond film, to Cam’s best friend who uses frustratingly contemporary—and instantly dated—idioms. Similarly, we barely scratch the surface of the wider multiverse at play here, but that is less of an issue as Into the Lightning Gate is the starting point for The Gates Saga, and hopefully we’ll get into the nuances in further installments.
With Into the Lightning Gate Roth tells a satisfying story that left me intrigued and it makes for a great summer read. There are many questions left unanswered, and hints of a bigger canvas to be explored. If this was Season one of a TV series, I’d be hooked and eagerly awaiting for a second season to drop.
By Chad Armstrong
Into the Lightning Gate: Book One of the Gates Saga by Robert Roth is available now via your local bookseller or online outlet. #IntotheLightningGate