01/05/2005. Contributed by Paul Hanley
pub: TOR. 352 page hardback. Price: $24.95 (US). $34.95 (CAN). ISBN: 0-765-30461-9.
check out website: www.tor.com
This book, like many SF books before it, picks up on a current activity and extrapolates its apparent effects into the future. The activity in this instance is Corporate Culture which is possibly a somewhat hackneyed subject. Nevertheless, Susan Shwartz paints a bleak picture of life in a world ruled by mega-global corporations. Her heroine, Caroline Cassandra Williams or 'CC', is on the greasy pole of corporate life and desperate not to slide back to the INSULAE where the over educated poor are housed. Philistines, it would seem, have inherited the Earth and the alternatives to being a salaried employee of one of the Corporations are grim. The bankrupt, for instance, are only kept alive whilst their limbs and organs can be harvested for the better heeled.
The book opens with CC on a spaceship, Rimrunner, heading towards a colony on a distant asteroid, Vesta. This is not a pleasant cruise as CC, along with all the other passengers as well as the crew, are obliged to take extended and rigorous exercise in order to offset the effects of zero gravity. There are also potential dangers from solar flares and pirates. It is also a relatively slow voyage with the ship taking months for the journey. At the back of CC's mind is always the fear that her employers, Alpha, will be dissatisfied and toss her back into the nightmare of the underclass. So she watches what she says and strives never to make an error or slack.
Alpha have sent her out to Vesta to investigate, on behalf of another corporate client, anomalies in the colonies finances. She is not pleased that one of her travelling companions is a former rival Sandy, who comes from the same underclass background as herself, had her sacked in a previous employment and is the liaison from her client company.
Susan Shwartz does an excellent job of painting a scenario where all are conscious of rank and status and constantly fearful of the consequences of failure. The converse is that if she successfully discovers the facts on who is haemorrhaging away assets will collect a fat bonus and be set for life. She can then marry her fiancÚ, David IV.
Problems begin to accumulate even before the ship reaches Vesta. The various passengers are a curious group including a former ambassador who represented the corporations to the UN. The ship acquires a military escort against an unknown threat. This is commanded by the dashing Marc Davidoff but our heroine takes a dislike to him.
Finally, when we reach Vesta, CC sets about unravelling the mystery as various attempts on her life are made. Gradually the story unfolds. Various people come under suspicion but when the ending finally comes and all is revealed, aliens are involved.
This was quite a good story. A whodunnit? Susan Shwartz does succeed in creating an unpleasant society which I am quite sure none of us would want to live in. She does this well and makes it a believable backdrop to the action. The characters are perhaps a little black and white but overall the effect is quite enjoyable, especially for those who like an element of romance in their SF.
It all ends with an impending wedding, so perhaps owes something to Mills and Boon. It also, for those who like plenty of blood and gore and close-quarter combat, lacks actually fighting so it is far more akin to a detective story.
The verdict is it is quite a good read if a little slow in places.
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