- Mass Market Paperback: 352 pages
- Publisher: Ace Books (Feb 2004)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0441011489
- ISBN-13: 978-0441011483
- Product Dimensions: 17.1 x 11 x 2.5 cm
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,690,389 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
The writer is deft at handling the larger construction of the book, but this book is disappointing on a variety of levels.
For starters, despite the milieu and onstensible setup, it is not an SF novel or even a sci-fi novel, not really. Search-and-replacing "starship" and "planet" with "tramp steamer" and "island" would make this a contemporary novel. Indeed, very minor wordsmithing would make this a Western ("horse", "remote Western town") or a tepid spy thriller ("submarine", "Soviet Union").
The core of this novel contains a variety of interesting modern concerns (animal welfare, cloning, stem cell research, bio-ethics, climate/plantary change, even gay marriage). Despite spending time building up such weighty topics freighted with possibility, the author avoids or plays down the sticky issues (turning the real crime of the black-hearted villain into theft, rather than confronting the ethical problems at hand).
The characters are entirely stereotypical, with no moral contradictions (good people are invariably good---often by who they associate with---while the bad people are mostly misguided). Many of the characters actions and events are driven by the necessities of the plot rather than the plot emerging from the personalities and foibles of the characters. The author actually seems unwilling to allow even her bad characters to violate what appear to be her own ethical standards.
I gave this book three stars because it is readable and literate in its faults and I genuinely like some of the central characters. There are some nice touches, such as the handling of personal space or an entirely automated culture. As pulp fiction it is almost adequate. But I must admit that I'm almost angry that a writer with this level of talent is just churning out something this uninspired.
If you've not read "Needle", "Case of Conscience", or "Word for World is Forest", go pick those up. Each of those confront some of the themes that this book uses as mere window dressing. Unwilling to tread on shaky moral ground or commit to a position, this novel is unworthy of its author.
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