on February 2, 2013
This review can also be seen at Top of the Heap Reviews at joehempel(dot)wordpress(dot)com
Stephen Goldin is a science-fiction author that has over 40 novels to his name. Lately he has moved into publishing his novels an indie author in eBook format. This book was co-written with his wife Mary Mason. Reading this work, originally published in 1988, reminds me of the pulpy science-fiction of old. Fantastic worlds, interesting species, and technology that's futuristic but easily understandable.
It's been a long time since I've read this type of science-fiction, and I'm glad to have the opportunity to read about such an amazing character as Jade Darcy.
She turns down what she considers a suicide assignment: traveling to an enslaved world to assassinate one of its military leaders. But then she learns there's another human being on Cablans -- a human being with the potential to expose Jade's mysterious past, with possibly fatal results.
All of a sudden, a suicide mission looks positively appetizing...
Setting: The planet Cablans is a planet on the outskirts of the galaxy. It's a place where interstellar commerce is it's main source of income, and due to where it's at, a source of the scourge of the universe. Most science-fiction that I read as a setting or foreign planet that feels very much like earth with just more technology. This place doesn't. It truly feels like a different place, with different cultures, with different species. Everything co-exists on this planet, no matter how fantastical. From humans to insect type aliens, to aliens that look like mythological creatures. Stephen Goldin paints a good picture with well thought out descriptions, without bogging the story down by being overly wordy.
Characters: The central character in this book is Jade Darcy. She is a CARC (computer augmented reflex commando) who has jumped away from that life for some reason. She is essentially an outcast among humans and hasn't see another in around 7 years. There are a lot of other characters that are introduced, but the focus is entirely on Jade. Her character really grows from the beginning of this book to the end, and her shifts come from the most unlikely sources. From beginning to end this journey is Jade's journey.
The other characters, except for the other human, Megan Cafferty, all have exotic makeups, and have their own way of dealing with the other species around them. One race has you trying to out maneuver being humble, and another has you slinging insults. Just don't tell any Yo Mama jokes...that might start a war. They are all well thought out, and aren't just names on the paper. One of my favorite aspects of this book is that each species has their own little quirks and their own little things that can help us identify on a personal level with each of these species. Everyone has a role to play, and they play them well.
The only character that I didn't quite get, was this manipulative four-dimensional being called The Greest. It's not determined if it's a he, or she, or it. Or what it's role really is, or if playing people is something that it just likes to do. I'm hoping more of it will be explained in the sequal.
Plot: There are several stories that each kind of have their own beginning, middle and end. They are all inter-woven masterfully, and flow from one into another in the most natural of ways. It starts out with a nightmare that Jade always has involving rape. I'm not sure, but I think that might be a reason why she's on the outskirts of the universe, and went awol in the military. It's not really explained (or I just missed it). With the end of that she's working for Rix essentially as a bouncer at his establishment that caters to every sort of being you could find.
She finds out that there is another human on Cablans, specifically looking for her. Not knowing if it's someone after her due to leaving the military, she goes out of her way to hide, even so far as to take what is thought of as a suicide mission with Fastal to assassinate a Commancor General that killed his family. It was his "affair of honor" to avenge the death of his family.
The paths of Jade Darcy and Megan Cafferty intertwine shortly after the return. And she realizes that Megan is only there to hire her for a job, brokering a deal for fallen dead leaves. But Megan does find a secret that Jade has been keeping from the world, and Jade has to make a decision on if she is going to kill Megan or not.
It was the meeting of Megan that really started Jade's character on an interesting internal struggle, and you see that the book becomes about Jade's retribution and about making peace with herself against all odds. The world doesn't become about her and only her, and she goes on her own sort of "affair of honor."
Only a master at his craft could take the intricacies of each species he's created, and weave them so seamlessly into a story about redemption and honor and friendship.
This book is real science-fiction. This isn't some story calling itself science-fiction because it uses a laser gun, and has a ship that flies in space. This is a complex tale set in a complex universe, of real human (or alien) emotion. It was truly an honor to read such a tale, and I highly recommend this to anyone looking for great science-fiction.