Wednesday, September 20, 2006



James Alan Gardner

  —   $6.99   —   Book

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Fiction, Science Fiction

In Expendable, we met Oar, a transparent woman with the demeanor of a child. Oar's race is all but indestructable, but sometime after they have turned fifty, they lose interest in the world and sleep in great glass towers that provide them with focused sunlight (all that they really need.) Near the end of the book, Oar fell eighty stories clutching her sister's murderer, and was presumed to be dead.

Except she isn't dead. She wakes up in the tower when a Freep alien finds her in her tower, laid out with her beloved ax on her chest. It turns out that the death of a high-ranking Admiral in the Technocracy has set certain events in motion; he didn't want to die without a scandal blackening the rest of the council. Oar is part of that evidence, but she was supposed to be dead. However, she can now give evidence in person; in the Freep's living spaceship, they leave the planet Melaquin.

But of course it isn't that simple; the Navy wants to cover up, and has sent ships to quarantine the planet, which they could evade if it it weren't for the mysterious "ship of sticks" that is likewise pursuing them. And there's another complication in the form of an advanced alien that looks like a headless white rhinocerous who promises Oar that he can keep her from succumbing to "Tired Brain" - but only if she understands that there's a potentially fatal risk involved.

The story is told from Oar's point of view, and is somewhat childish as a result, but Gardner keeps the commentary humorous rather than obnoxious. One feels sympathy for Oar even as one laughs at the perception she has of the world. And the case of Oar turns out to have far-reaching implications, not only for humanity, but for Divians and their sub-species, close friends to humanity. (Freeps are a Divian sub-species, as are the Ooloms of Vigilant.)

And, as Oar kindly lets you know at the beginning, the story has a happy ending, with Oar triumphing over all, so one can read the story free of worry and with great enjoyment.

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