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Dexta by C.J. Ryan

01/09/2005. Contributed by Geoff Willmetts

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pub: Bantam Spectra. 451 page paperback. Price: $ 6.99 (US), $10.99 (CAN). ISBN: 0-553-58776-5.

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'Dexta' is the first of a series of books featuring Gloria VanDeen and her rise through the ranks of Dexta, a futuristic civil service organisation and her Department of Extraterrestrial Affairs. VanDeen is also Emperor's ex-wifegiving her a lot of contacts in all the right places, especially the media. The latter nearly works against her when after a ball, a night with her former husband who hints to the press of a formal reunion, VanDeen gives a less then gentle rebuke and takes an assignment off-world to stay out of the limelight.

To this end, VanDeen and her assistant, Petra Nash, go to Mynjhino, a planet of two species with imperial rule and corporate harvesting. The Myrn are upset with this and someone has been supplying them with arms. It's all a conspiracy with the other species, the Jhino, involved in a battle for supremacy.

On some levels, there was the odd thought of Poul Anderson about this story but with a lot more sex. Granted this isn't at pornographic levels, but this is a reality of red tape, political manoeuvring and sexual favours mixed with a high level of violence now and again. In an earlier age, this book could almost fall into the pulp fiction category except that it is better written and a fair page-turner. Gloria VanDeen is a woman who knows her own mind, knows what to and what not to wear and how to get people to do what she wants. Quite how author Ryan made such a manipulative woman a sweetheart you want to watch as well I guess I'll have to put down to the writing. VanDeen hasn't got civil service cynicism yet and she doesn't suffer fools that gladly.

With more books to follow, I can see the Gloria VanDeen stories developing their own cult followers. Stories like this haven't been done for a while. The reality is reasonably sound with enough comparable things like the civil service on a galactic scale for most people to recognise in their own countries today. If you're after a light - but not too light - read with a little thinking behind it, I think you'll get hooked.

GF Willmetts

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