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Hostile Takeover by Susan Shwartz
Review by Ernest Lilley
Tor Books Hardcover  ISBN/ITEM#: 0765304619
Date: 01 December, 2004 List Price $24.95 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /

I'm not a shoshaman/salaryman and I'm not a corporate financial consultant, nor do I hang out with them, at least not these days. But I know enough about that world to feel Caroline Cassandra Williams' (her friends call her 'CC') pain. Her job means pretty much everything to her, starting with a way out of the academic ghetto her parents lived in, and ending with her impending marriage to a hunky corporate scion and ascendancy into the ranks of upper, upper management. Providing she does well on her assignment: Accounting on Vesta. Someone appears to cooking the books by using the accounts of passengers in suspended animation to acquire control of certain corporations and it's up to her to find out who, and incidentally, why.

The story starts out in the gym of a deep space liner heading for the asteroid belt and the various mining settlements it holds. CC is 'running for her life', not from aliens, assassins or other nefarious types, but just to stay in shape so that she won't get down checked on a fitness evaluation, or lose face in the oh-so-competitive corporate rat race. (I read this chapter on an elliptical cross trainer at the gym, surrounded by CC's contemporary clones, just to make it more painful). Fortunately this part is there only to set up the character and the times, and we move quickly on to action and intrigue when the liner picks up a military escort nobody is supposed to know about, and the author heats things up with hints of radiation and romance. The first comes from a solar flare, courtesy of the sun's 11 year sunspot cycle, who's 'futures' are overvalued, according to the buzz, and the second in the person of a soldier traveling more or less incognito on the run. When 'Davidoff, Marc' and CC meet sparks fly, in that cutely antagonistic way that makes you pretty sure that more than friction is at work in the author's mind, especially since the soon to be corporately wed consultant has no time for such diversions. Life, as they say, will surely find a way.

The one constant in the universe of who-dunnit remains the heart of the matter - Cui bono? who benefits? And finding the answer will lead CC into peril not just to her dreams of corporate ascendancy and marital bliss, not just to her life, but also to the safety of humanity itself. High stakes indeed. So, on to Vesta, where she will encounter a former mentor, vie with a colleague, hang with retired ambassador, and fence with the aforementioned space hero. Once the story moves past preamble, the pace quickens and the fun begins.

Though much of the world CC lives in is painful replication of the one that the author (and you, dear reader) experience today, some things are nicely conceived. This is a world where a DNR statement means Do Not Ransom, rather than Revive, and where financial firms are the real world government, though there is a WorldGov ostensibly running things. The reverse tech chic of senior execs is manifested by CC having her data access implants removed and smoothed over when she made exec status, so as not to be classed with those who had to get their info first hand...even though she really misses direct net access.

I've no doubt but that the author did her research, but her notions of space travel seem flawed by melodrama. Accelerations are triple gee affairs that squeeze the breath out of the passengers, a deep space liner carries catapult launched fighter craft to zap chunks of rock, ala the old asteroids video game, and CC gets to ride along as "backseater" on one such mission. In the time honored tradition of fighter pilots and virgin passengers she is treated to an "immelman", which is a pretty good trick in a spacecraft, considering that the original trick depends on gravity and lift, both of which are notably lacking in space. Don't believe what you've seen on Battlestar Galactica...spaceships fly in straight lines. The only show to ever try and portray this correctly was Babylon 5, at least for a while. Even her notions of asteroid defense are melodramatic, positing asteroid busters that terrorists might use to wreak havoc on the Earth, rather than ion drives or other less dramatic methods of asteroid management.

But I'm ranting. This is really a fairly good book, though it fights it in order to get things done in the proper order and at the proper time. CC is at the center of a web of intrigue which she can't be allowed to unravel before the author is ready to pull the curtain aside, and as a result, this avowedly bright human winds up spending most of the book a dimmer bulb than pretty much everyone around her.

When the colony's secret is finally revealed, I was surprised to find that I'd guessed wrong, so I may have to give the author points on that as well. The action with the cat out of the bag is much more fun than the events leading up to it, and my one wish would have been that she could have gotten their a lot sooner so we could get more of camaraderie that enlivens the book, and less of the secrecy that stilts it.

The ending leaves room for a sequel or more, and now that the characters are established, they might be better behaved. If one comes out, I'll certainly want to see for myself.

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