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Undertow by Elizabeth Bear
Cover Artist: Cliff Nielsen
Review by Carolyn Frank
Spectra Mass Market  ISBN/ITEM#: 9780553589054
Date: 31 July 2007 List Price $6.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /

Greene's World is is a watery place out on the Rim of Earth dominated space. The dominant natives, the ranids, a frog like amphibian species, are well-suited to live in a place comprised mainly of marshes and open seas. Colonizing humans arrived a generation ago to use the natives to mine for precious substances, and the humans cope by building barges and boats, which they hook together to form cities. But beneath the waters, beneath the ongoing life and commerce of both species, an Undertow is beginning to form, a revolution to enable the ranids to take back their planet before the colonizers do irreversible damage.

Andre Deschenes, a hired assassin, is looking to change his life. He knows he can occasionally will his luck to be good and is seeking to find a teacher who will teach him how to master his luck. His erstwhile girlfriend, Cricket Earl Murphy, is an archinformist, a locater of information regardless of where it might be located or how it might be hidden or encrypted. Jean Kroc is a conjurer, a master of changing his luck and a rabid back-to-nature type, who is quietly working to actually understand the planet and its inhabitants. Lucienne Spivak, Jean's partner, is known to be actively leading the ranid resistance effort and, as such, has a large target painted on her back. Each of these people are hiding part of their true selves in order to exist on Greene's World, but events are conspiring to ensure that the subterranean changes underway will force their essential nature to reveal itself.

The ranid perspective is also presented, primarily through the viewpoint of Gourami, a young adult who has been working in one of mines. Gourami has learned to understand English and, as ranid vocal apparatus does not enable them to speak English, to write it on a personal sized tablet. As this is an uncommon set of skills, Gourami interacts more than most ranids with humans. After se (the self-representing pronoun used by the ranids) inadvertently finds a dead human body that is not supposed to be found, se gets caught, is released and becomes even more involved in the revolutionary activities. Through Gourami's actions and reflections, the life cycle, the culture and the evolutionary ascent of the ranids are brought to light.

Two complementary areas of science form the basis for this universe. The biological/ecological perspective is addressed in detail, with in-depth descriptions of the watery world and the native ranids, a highly credible extrapolation of known environments and associated fauna. The space travel and interplanetary communications are the more typical science fiction forms, needed for the plot and accepted on their own terms. The two areas of science combine to form a rich palette, with which the author paints an intricate tale, weaving the paths of the major actors into a truly enthralling story.

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