by James Alan Gardner
Review by Steve Sawicki
Eos Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 0060595264
Date: 03 August, 2004 List Price $23.95 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /
I have to admit that I get sucked in by the same thing everyone else does; a pretty cover, an author's name, the blurbs on the dust jacket. It was two out of three for this book as I was not that familiar with Gardner's work, which, in itself, was another reason to dive in. Finding a new author to follow is worth the effort. My reading bounces between hard SF, fantasy, character driven or soft SF, high fantasy, horror and the odd mystery, humorous, or quirky genre bending work. But this time I was looking to feed my hard SF jones and the idea of a hive minded alien race so intelligent that it knows what you are going to do before you do it as the antagonist, struck me as an idea that could prove interesting.
Youn Sue is expendable, meaning she does not fit into society and so is tasked with doing one of the jobs that society needs done but which also has a high mortality rate. So far so good. Sue is an ugly duck, disfigured in a genetic manipulation accident, highly intelligent, lacking self esteem and angry about it all. Okay, so we have an interesting antagonist and a pretty interesting protagonist and they're going to come together when this alien mind starts taking over planets and people. And then I start thinking, well, how would you defeat something that knows what you are going to do before you know it? That could be interesting too.
Except it's not. Gardner manages to take all these neat ideas and present them in a way that ends up being just plain boring. There's no level of tension. The supporting characters are either snobbish bores or whacked wild cards. And the plot seems to waver in and out of importance. To be honest, I made it less than half way through before giving up. This is a lot farther than I wanted to go but I kept convincing myself that if I only sacrificed for another twenty pages or so things would surely get interesting. They never did and I regretted the additional eighty pages I waded through to confirm that.
This is one of those books with all the right ingredients but none of the flavors you're expecting. There are aliens aplenty but they're trotted on and off the scene as if they were no more than set pieces to be manipulated. And manipulated is a good word because that's the feeling that kept creeping over me time and time again as I waded through exposition and seemingly meaningless dialogue in this first person account. Any efforts to seduce quickly became transparent so I knew when something significant was happening because it had the reek of significance all over it. Ah well, there are worse things I could have done with my time.