by Mary Rosenblum
Review by Ernest Lilley
Tor Books Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 0765316048
Date: 14 November, 2006 List Price $24.95 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /
Ahni Huang was the inconsequential daughter of the leader of the Huang family, a powerful political and financial entity. Like many before her, she lived in the shadow of her brother, born at the same time and destined to be heir to their father. Until he was tortured and his shuttle destroyed. Now she's following a trail to extract vengeance from his killer, and recover the family's honor. A trail that takes her up the space elevator to another world, the world of Earth's orbital platforms. Unfortunately for her, the quarry is one step ahead of her from the start, and things are not nearly as simple as they seem, either on the platforms, or on the ground.
Like many girls before her in patriarchal cultures, Ahni Huang doesn't count for much in her father's eyes. At least she didn't until her twin brother was abducted, tortured and killed, depriving her father the heir he had planned on. Now Anhi finds the uncomfortable burdens of family honor and future squarely on her shoulders. Too bad that the micro-g environment on the orbital platforms over Earth can't lessen that weight because that's where she's headed on a mission of revenge, honor, and obligation.
When Ahni gets off the elevator onto the NYUp platform, she finds that she's been expected, and is soon fleeing for her life in a strange environment her Earthbound life has ill prepared her for. She is, however, a fast learner, wired to the gills with nanosystems, and open to new ideas, all of which give her more of an edge than the quarry, turned hunter, has counted on. After she flees to the micro-g farming complex at the can shaped platform's hub she meets Dane Nilson. Dane's records, which Ahni can access thanks to some advanced implants, show him to be a fairly straightforward genetic tech, there's a lot more to him than the official version shows. Dane is both the head of the secessionist movement which plans to liberate NYUp from the grip of the World Council, and the patriarch of an adopted and very unusual family of his own.
What follows for Ahni is a wild elevator ride of an adventure, shuttling between Earth and the orbitals as she tries to unravel a complex web of intrigue and deceit amongst the family entanglements and geopolitics of the near future. For the platforms, it's a tale of revolution and restraint that should satisfy any Heinlein fan, and for Ahni it's a time of coming into her own after a childhood on the sidelines, and the dangers she faces threaten every thing she has ever known, from the political stability of Earth to the lies that her mother has lived since Ahni was born.
Horizons presents an excellently crafted world, complete with space elevators, "platform" colonies, asteroid miners, space adapted humans and a very credible geopolitical setup, where China and Taiwan are strong world powers and the North American Alliance, though still a big player, isn't the only game in town. With all those good ideas floating around, I wish she's left out telepathic abilities, especially since the main character's empathic talent never does much that good tradecraft wouldn't accomplish for a highly skilled spy. In general, it's in the bio-stuff, including a romp with non-Darwinian evolution that put me off, though not enough to keep me from enjoying the story.
Still, I wish Horizons could have stood more on its plot and less on the parade of tech, as the story at its core has plenty of legs of its own, and a slightly reduced set of props might have shown them to better advantage.
One of the most notable features of the book is that Ms. Rosenblum has made a serious effort at coming to grips with the emergence of China as a dominant world power, and the waning of American influence in the coming century. I think her new world order suffers from the sort of reductionism that SF has always been plagued by, but she's heading in a good direction. The UN has been replaced by a World Council, and we're on the other side of the "Terror Wars", a conceit that I'm suspicious of since terrorism is exactly what Ahni finds herself up against.
If you're a fan of Ms. Rosenblum's previous books, you'll no doubt like Horizons. Along with authors like Ben Bova she's charting the near space future with solid characters at the helm and lot of good insights into the world of tomorrow.