The Omcri Matrix, Jay D Blakeney (1987)
Review by Ian Sales
Costa is a lieutenant in Playworld’s Planetary Patrol, and its “smartest, toughest and most ambitious officer”, as the blurb has it. She is also an adapt, a which means she has been genetically engineered to possess improved hearing, eyesight, sense of smell, endurance and strength. Her dream is to join the Rangers, the elite combat force operated by the galaxy’s Fleet. But the Playworld Directory won’t release her from her contract.
Understandably upset at being forced to remain on Playworld – its name indicates its role in galactic affairs – Costa decides to dial back her commitment to her job. She has been assigned as leader of protection detail for a visiting dignitary, the Kublai of the United Worlds of Drugh, who is visiting the ruined Kanta temple complex on the northern continent for religious reasons. Before the Kublai’s arrival, Costa visits the Beros bazaar, and is accosted by an Omcri. These are formless creatures of darkness in hooded cloaks, feared and hated by all, who can be hired as couriers and assassins. Their origin is a mystery. The Omcri tries to bribe Costa into betraying the Kublai, but she refuses. So it “poisons” her. Unfortunately, she has no opportunity to inform her commander before the Kublai arrives and the extended party heads out to the temple complex in the jungle.
Where it is ambushed a few days later. The Kublai is abducted by persons unknown. Of the rest of the party, only Costa survives. As does the injured Ranger, secretly held in a stasis box, which the Kublai had intended to sacrifice to his god, Kanta. When Costa contacts her commander, she is immediately accused of betraying the Kublai and branded a traitor. She and the Ranger must cross the jungle to the coast, and on an island there find some way for the Ranger to contact his corps.
It turns out the Omcri are more than they appear. They are advance scouts for an evil civilisation from another galaxy – or dimension; The Omcri Matrix is not entirely clear on this point – which intends to take over Costa’s galaxy. And Costa, it seems, is the only person ever to overcome the Omcri “poison” – actually a means of taking control of the person so poisoned. And so she must battle the creatures who control the Omcri and save herself, the Ranger, her colleagues, Playworld, and the galaxy. There is, incidentally, no matrix in the Omcri’s galaxy/dimension.
There is little in The Omcri Matrix which is especially original. Throughout there are small hints that Dune provided much inspiration, though the story itself bears little or no resemblance to Frank Herbert’s novel. Costa, for example, was born among a desert people, whose culture hints at Arabic culture. Their houses are called sieghr (cf the Fremen sietch), they are polygamous, and their sense of hospitality and honour resembles that of romanticised Bedouins. Which is strange, because though Playworld’s only city, Beros, seems like some North African city, much of the planet is jungle and there are extensive oceans.
The story is structured around two conspiracies – one constrained to Playworld, and one pan-galactic. The villain of the first piece, who rejoices in the name of Wob Nogales, is an obese hedonist – shades of Baron Harkonnen? The creature which controls the Omcri, however, is far from human. As one conspiracy is resolved, so its solution catapults Costa and her Ranger friend, Haufren, into the next.
The prose is transparent – ie, readable, but adds nothing to the reading experience. There are a lot of made-up alien words, mostly referring to Playworld’s flora and fauna, and not all of which are pronounceable – eg, juujb. Flin is used throughout as a swearword, though some of the other oaths probably should have been reconsidered: “I don’t want a crew of shin-nicked Fleeters in here on my planet any more than you do.” (So in this intergalactic future, cutting a notch in a person’s lower-leg is considered an insult?) There doesn’t appear to be much logic in the use of neologisms – for example:
Yulies was their word for the rich people who flocked to Playworld for a few weeks of idleness. (p 9)
This is the only time the term yulies is used in the story… which does make you wonder why Blakeney bothered to include it. To paraphrase Chekov, if there’s a smeerp in the first act, it needs to have some narrative impact by the third act.
Costa’s commander and colleagues are a little too quick to consider her a traitor, and their refusal to allow her an explanation smacks of idiot plotting. The universe beyond Playworld is only hinted at – in fact, it’s not even clear whose Fleet the Rangers belong to; and mentions of a Galactic Space Institute are never explained. Playworld itself seems little more than a room full of used furniture. The Omcri, for example, reminded me of Grannis from van Vogt’s The Universe Maker; and also the cover art to Philip Jose Farmer’s The Unreasoning Mask.
Put simply, The Omcri Matrix is sf brain-candy. It’s a fun read for a wet afternoon and nothing else.