on October 20, 2005
I, like another reviewer, had this book for several months before reading it due to other books on my to-do list but once I read it, enjoyed it immenseley. I'm a little puzzled by the negative reviews as they seemed to be based on either the fact that the reviewer has not read the entire series and thus, doesn't understand the characters' motivations (there's a rational reason for Miles Flint's coldness and objectivity - it was part of his tutelage from his mentor in order to survive in the RA business).
The other negative reviews appear to be based on the belief that humans will always be the dominant species in the universe. This latter premise isn't a requirement in the sci-fi genre and frankly, doesn't fly even in the Star Trek universe where species liked the Romulans, the Borg and the Klingons kicked humanity's ass on occasion. To believe that we as humans would not play in a game where the rules are draconian to us assumes that we have the option of (a) thriving in said universe without cooperating or (b) that we are not vastly outnumbered and overwhelmed by other species. I happen to think Rusch's universe is closer to what might become our reality; after all, suppose extraterresterial contact arrives on our planet first (rather than us arriving on their planet), thus demonstrating their technological superiority?
Regardless, for those readers who have read the other books in the series and are wondering about a let-down - have no fear. This installment, like others, is rich in plot, suspense, and characters and Rusch continues to paint a vivid picture as to interspecies conflict. If you haven't read any of the RA books, read the series in order - they are not standalone books. Highly recommended for the sci-fi enthusiast.
on September 29, 2005
This series continues with a book in which we deal with the Disty and Humans, with only momentary glances at other species in Rusch's universe. This makes it easier to concentrate in detail on some fine points of the alien culture. It is also easier because the previous novels have established background; for that reason, I would tell someone just discovering Rusch that this is a series best read mostly in order, so go ahead and get all the books, not just this one first. Especially, one needs some background from the novel immediately preceding this one; if you can't pick them all up right away, at least get "Consequences."
That said, let's consider the part of the plot that is this volume's alone. Mainly, it centers on the death taboos and customs of the Disty, the alien race who control Mars. These customs are extensive and nearly incomprehensible to humans, and quite complex. Some reviewers have found that point hard to swallow, complaining that it's not believable. However, two points: one, even among humans alone, we have a rule that "ignorance of the law is no excuse" and we punish people for accidentally breaking laws they didn't know existed and that no one thought to tell them. This is true across any spread of human cultures you choose to contrast. And breaking customs of another country or culture that one wasn't informed about is also quite common among humans in the real world, to the extent that people attempt to write guides to such things and all of them are inevitably described as incomplete.
Point two, the complexity and variation of the Disty death taboos and customs and rituals is not unbelievable; for an analogy, just look at the complex of laws we have surrounding marriage: thousands and thousands of different ceremonies and customs around the planet, millions of small details regarding what is expected of married couples, varying widely from religion to religion, and in the breakup of any marriage, every case varies enough to need individual adjudication, including dividing of property specific to the couple, child custody arrangements ditto, and so on. In other words, while the rituals themselves may not be comprehensible to us, and we may not agree with the Disty beliefs covering them, the number of strange, complex rituals the Disty have is quite believable, and that fact that one doesn't find out about them until a particular case occurs is something we already have experience of in human culture. (Let's try showing the Disty a Jewish wedding and a Mormon wedding, shall we, and explaining that both have to do with the same basic concept of two humans living together and probably producing offspring...)
For those new to the series, probably the level of pickiness I went into above indicates the complexity of the series, and the fullness of Rusch's universe. These are real people, with personality quirks, interactions with other fully realized people, and so on. Perhaps the selfish reporter is a bit of a stereotype, but even she has her moments, where some insight is given into the legitimate motives that might have propelled her to become the kind of reporter she is.
The development over time of the various domes on the Moon and on Mars, and how the various domes differ based on when they were built and what their original purposes were, are fascinating details of the "history" of this universe, and make for some fun speculation as to the stories behind those stories.
And, alas, as I write this just after Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Rita, the details of government officials not cooperating with each other, not deciding who has authority over what, the lack of funding for Noelle's security position despite its importance, and the politicians not making decisions both for lack of authority and for fear of being blamed later, all ring far too true for comfort. As do the thousands of deaths that occur because one dome had no evacuation plan in place...
I have only one complaint to make about this book: "search perimeters." Miles, among others, is described as setting "search perimeters" for his computer searches. Perhaps, if we take a rather stretchy meaning of perimeter to mean limits or boundaries, that's what the author meant. Or maybe she misused perimeters, thinking that she was using the word "parameter." Or, more likely, she wrote "search *parameters*," a common enough phrase, and some automatic copy editing quirk somewhere changed it. No matter which of these it was, it makes for an uncomfortable pause as one tries to decipher: did she do this on purpose, or by accident, or is it the publisher's fault, and if she did it on purpose, why? So I have a suggestion for Ms. Rusch: so that we don't have to wonder about that, and can concentrate on your stories, please: if you mean search "terms" or "conditions" go ahead and use those words, and if you mean search "limits" use that word; avoid parameter altogether and don't use perimeter unless you really mean the edge of a physical area that someone is patrolling. That way, people can concentrate on the story.
That said, I'm sure it will be fixed in the next edition of this volume, and hope it will be fixed in the next book in the series, which I am looking forward to and will definitely buy, because this continues to be a fascinating series.