Thursday, September 14, 2006



James Gardner

  —   $6.99   —   Book

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Fiction, Science Fiction

Jamese Alan Gardner has created a universe where not only are humans not alone, they're pretty much near the bottom. However, there is an alien organization composed of highly evolved races called the League of Peoples, who have only one rule: You can do whatever you want planetside, but they will not allow dangerous non-sentients to cross galactic boundaries.

The trick is in the definition. A dangerous non-sentient is someone who deliberately kills a sentient being. So no murderers can go to space, no lethal weapons can be packed aboard, and though it is safe to kill non-sentients in self-defense or in keeping non-sentients from travelling - like killing in-system pirates, one has to be very, very careful what one's intentions are.

Because if you're non-sentient, the moment you cross the galactic line, you die. No trial, no appeal, and no revival. (And a troop sent to hunt down the above pirates might have some members die - the League seems to work by intentions, not by outside evidence.)

In Hunted, the third book set in this universe (though it is unnecessary to have read the previous novels), Explorer Edward York is leaving a moon base around the planet Mandasar for the first time in decades because of the war on the planet's surface. Edward is, to put it bluntly, dumb - he is not really capable of making connections between events, though he has been highly trained in protocol and has a good sense of what will offend people. Shortly into the voyage, he is dragged to a wild party where the entire crew seems on edge, and when they cross the galactic line he finds out why: every other person on the ship immediately drops dead.

As the only person left alive, but one who is incapable of determining why the whole crew was determined to be non-sentient, he is in charge - but it quickly turns out that the story is bigger than one crew. There's a dead hive queen on board - the ruling race of Mandasar - and the Technocracy wants to cover up the whole business, even if it means marooning Edward. And it turns out that Edward - unwanted, unloved, stupid Edward - might be the key to not only stopping a war, but finding out who started it to begin with, and why.

Edward himself is highly likeable, and doesn't seem to be nearly as stupid as he thinks he is. That turns out to be a plot point, not merely sloppy writing; like Charly in Flowers For Algernon, an increase in intelligence shows Edward things he'd rather not see. The reader may figure out what's going on sooner than Edward himself, but Gardner hides enough clues that one can still be surprised by the (highly satisfying) conclusion.

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