July 18, 2005

Consequences by Kristine Kathryn Rusch

closeup of ring-shaped space station orbiting Earth Back in early May I heard that the Endeavour Award was looking for readers. The Endeavour is an award given for a work of speculative fiction published by a writer from the Pacific Northwest. The process for the award requires that each eligible nominated book be read by five or seven preliminary readers who each rate the book in a number of different categories. These ratings get distilled down to a numerical score which is used to trim the field down to a half-dozen finalist books which are then judged by a panel of three professional writers. I signed up to be a preliminary reader, so this and the next several book reviews are of books I might not necessarily have chosen on my own, but were read closely for a good cause.

Consequences is part of Rusch's "Retrieval Artist" series. It appears to be the third volume in the series, but I was able to keep up pretty well despite not having read the prior volumes. The book is a hard-boiled detective story set in a city on our moon. Miles Flint is an ex-cop turned retrieval artist, which is an occupation that takes some explaining. The setting is a future where we've made contact with multiple alien species. In such a diverse cultural mix, humans can run afoul of obscure alien laws. If humans think the law is unjust or the penalty too severe or something, the offender can go into a kind of witness relocation program where they're disappeared off to some obscure corner of the galaxy to hide and wait hoping to outlive the statute of limitations or the race they've offended. Retrieval artists are sort of reverse bounty hunters who track down a disappeared person when it's safe for them to come back to their old lives.

Flint's case in this book gets mixed up with a murder for which he feels some degree of responsibility, so he tries to solve the case bringing him into conflict with his old partner, Noelle DeRicci. To complicate matters, the investigation happens in parallel with a summit meeting between some warring races. As the story unfolds, we find out that this confluence of events is not exactly a coincidence.

All the interlocking events in the book have a nice feeling of realistic complexity, and not everything ties together cleanly. There are some reasonable coincidences and some reasonable random events that make the overall plot feel more like real life than a styilized story. And if some of the plot uncomfortably brings to mind some of our real world current events, I can forgive Ms. Rusch since she went to reasonable pains to keep things from being too parallel.

Posted by jeffy at July 18, 2005 09:27 PM