Disclaimers: Part of a review swap and valid through chapter 12 pt 3.
A grim take on the future and featuring a rather bleak enviroment? Yeah, it is. But it's still a fun read. Calforn is a little bit of a lot of thing. A little dystopian, a little adventure, a little bit GameLit, base builder and just a dash of horror. It's all presented with rock solid writing.
Style: I'm taking notes from this guy on how to clean up my own prose. For realz. You get a real sense of the enviroment and creatures without the prose ever bogging down. It is clear and concise, but without being dry.
Story: Overall, it's a good, engaging read. It moves along at a nice clip, niether dragging nor rushing. In addition, there are very light GameLit type mechanics, and they fit in quite nicely. My only real problem is there are some elements that are hinted and teased pretty heavily pre-drop and are then ignored. Like in the characters below, that may be something that is expanded on later, but as it is now, I think either too much or too little is said.
Grammar: I found about a half dozen errors in the 215 pages. It's quite readable.
Character: It took a few chapters for the secondary characters to really come into their own, but, once they do, they are solid, believable people. They feel distinct. Alpha is more fleshed out, though I would like to see some of the threads from chapter 1 followed up more. That may be a thing that is followed up on either later, or in a sequel.
Overall: I don't want anyone reading this to take four stars the wrong way. Five stars, for me, are the books that I'm hounding my family and friends to read. The ones I bring up to near strangers and embark on missionary trips to convert people to the fandom. This isn't quite that. It is really good though. It is a fun read, with an interesting premise and some different angles on GameLit.