I’ve been wanting to start writing more in-depth book reviews here, and what better way to start the ball rolling than with A.E. Ash‘s Temporary Duty Assignment, brought to you by Book Smugglers Publishing 🙂
Disclaimer 1: Yes, A.E. is my writing bestie—but I wouldn’t write a review like this if I didn’t love the piece 🙂
Disclaimer 2: I should probably also share that I have a degree in literary analysis. I love thinking about what I read almost as much as the reading itself <3 I’ll try to keep from going down too many rabbit holes with you 🙂
Let’s get to it!
One of the things I love about A.E.’s works is that she usually hits me right in the feels. We’ve talked about it before—how I am weirdly synchronized to her works and really “get it” a lot more than some. (Writers, this is what it looks like when you find an “ideal reader”, and if you can find that in someone who is also a close friend, you are very, very blessed).
I love A.E.’s descriptive prose (she is also a poet and has mad skills there).
“Like I am just living out the motions in someone else’s weird dream of me—”
She warned me that this piece might be an emotionally challenging read, and yeah, it started hitting me in the feels right away. I knew I was in trouble when I started crying during the dedication. The dedication.
The little call-backs to her short story, “Nice”, were woven in…well, nicely 😉 And I kind of have to talk about “Nice” a little bit here, because Temporary Duty Assignment complements it so well.
“I’ll take it out of your hide if we miss the Super Gyro shuttle. You hearing me, Gao?”
In “Nice”, Kitsune—Middle-Aged Assassin Lady—sees everything she does through this lens that is so normal. “Eat a sandwich. Take out a target. Water the philodendron.” Seeing Kitsune’s work from the other side—from Sam’s side—painted it in a whole new light.
Cognitively, Kitsune knows she’s special, but she doesn’t really think of herself that way, so I didn’t either. When she described herself at work in “Nice”, it seemed like “just another Tuesday”. Then Sam shows up later in Temporary Duty Assignment and describes the same scene where Kitsune had been working, and I was floored to see the same exact setting and think, “Damn, Kitsune really knows what she’s doing!” That was a lot of fun for me.
I felt for Sam from the very beginning. She’s a fully developed character dealing with some serious sh…tuff. 🙂 This is handled poetically and brutally by turns throughout the story—sharing Sam’s own experience of her trauma with the reader.
“The only problem was that now, Sam didn’t know where instinct ended and anxiety began.”
And then there’s Caleb. I fell for him right away, too. He’s so sweet, and I love nerdy heroes. His little idiosyncrasies made him relatable. For some reason, I keep thinking of the first scene where we meet him and he pushes himself away from his desk with too much force and almost runs into something with his office chair (a phenomenon I’m very familiar with).
Things like this make A.E.’s Scifi accessible. Yes, they’re in a distant-future metropolis (the likes of which I hope we never choose to see), but they still eat ramen, work late, and play darts.
“The green lights from the machine’s interface made the already shitty food look like experiments from the Biochem division.”
She uses little descriptive touches to remind you that you’re reading Scifi, even when the characters are doing mundane things that we can totally relate to in the here-and-now.
None of the characters are perfect, which makes them feel all the more real. The world itself is like a mirror reflecting the relationship between the two main characters, Earth and humanity seeing if they can rekindle what once was, or better—make something new and even more beautiful.
“…propped against the lands they were all working to coax back to living, giving abundance.”
This is a “second chance” romance on many levels <3
The action of the piece picks up fast. A.E. uses her prose to convey the jarring disconnect of a newbie in a firefight. Her descriptions from Sam’s point of view made me wonder just how many past lives A.E. has lived as a soldier…
My one issue with the piece is, I wish it had been longer. I wanted to explore more of the characters, their world, their interactions and reactions to what they were experiencing. I wanted to see the farthest reaches that humanity has dared to explore—and beyond, to where the sharp-toothed, radiation-mutated vermin pop up from their burrows.
Okay, maybe not so much that part of this world 🙂
But I’d love to learn more about Metro and beyond. Maybe see what Kitsune is up to in Iceland, or check in on Richter and Wei with their orchids—another lifeform that needs care and attention to thrive.
The little details of Temporary Duty Assignment are what really strengthen an already action-packed, emotionally charged piece. I’m eager to see what A.E. writes next 🙂