Unknown 9: Genesis is an oddball title– it’s the first released piece of media in a developing story universe spanning several formats, something which may be common for established genre fiction series but which is almost unheard of in new releases. There are plans for more novels in the Unknown 9 universe, along with podcasts, comics, and even a video game on the way in 2021. Even more surprising is just how much of this content parent company Reflector Media is willing to give away for free: if you head over to unknown9.com right now you’ll find the first issue in the comic series as well as a serialized version of Genesis which is dropping in 6 parts. Also present are the first three episodes of the accompanying podcast and the beginnings of an alternate reality-style game which will be sure to please anyone that takes an interest in this slick, contemporary blend of technothriller and paranormal storytelling.
That’s all great, but what about Genesis itself? The novel is something of a mission statement for the entire project: it’s one part treasure hunt and one part Bourne-style thriller with elements of the potentially paranormal and otherworldly. Our protagonists are Ph.D. student Andie Robertson and disgraced journalist Cal Miller. After the disappearance of Andie’s mentor and de facto father figure Dr. Corwin, she is thrust into a world of secret societies and hidden technologies, all the while plagued by strange hallucinations. Meanwhile, Cal Miller is using his platform as a Twitch streaming conspiracy theorist to dig deeper into the secret society which he believes ruined his career and reputation– the very same which is now after Andie. Together they struggle to solve a cryptic technological scavenger hunt and avoid the very real threats of the hornet’s nest they’ve kicked.
The first thing that stands out about the novel is its pacing. Genesis is a fast ride from chapter one, quickly dolling out just enough information about what’s really happening to keep you going in search of answers. Author Layton Green deftly keeps readers on the hook and consistently demonstrates his competence with thrilling cat and mouse sequences. There are a handful of times where the need for explanation and context derail the tension of the whole thing, especially in research sequences, but overall the book moves at a fast clip and was genuinely pretty difficult to not binge read.
The supporting cast of characters is also a high point. Omer, the primary antagonist, is one of the more interesting I’ve encountered outside of the horror genre as he’s allowed to be both competent and ruthless. He’s in that camp of sophisticated intellectual baddies but he gets a few key moments to demonstrate his physicality and his obsessive need to earn his way back into the good graces of his…employers. There’s a secondary narrative throughout which follows Ettore Majorana, an early 20th-century physicist whose story lends the book a historical fiction angle, and while he’s not a very interesting character on his own his friend Stefan certainly is, especially with as memorable an entry as he gets.
My only real detraction from Genesis is that the nature of the universe it’s a part of demands it not feel complete in any way. Because this novel isn’t just the first in a trilogy, but the first in an entire expanded universe, there are very few precious scraps of information thrown to the reader by the end. There isn’t a traditional central conflict to be resolved in this first outing, so picking this one up really requires that you dig deeper into the rest of Unknown 9 for a fuller experience. While this will eventually be remedied by the bevy of upcoming content, at the moment it’s still kind of a shallow pool to dive into, so know going into it that you may not be entirely satisfied by what you learn and how much is left up in the air at the end of it all. I imagine fans of Dan Brown, conspiracy thrillers, and slick speculative fiction will be right at home with Genesis, and I’m very optimistic about how much is left to explore in the Unknown 9 universe.
8 out of 10 Enneagrams