Monday, May 18, 2009

Kristine Kathryn Rusch - Duplicate Effort

Kristine Kathryn Rusch, Duplicate Effort, ROC, 2009.

Spoiler warning!

This is the seventh book in the Retrieval Artist series. It is a series of future police procedural stories, set in the domed city of Armstrong on the moon. Each story contains a crime mystery to be solved by the characters, but also some big ideas. The human race has encountered many species of aliens, and the Earth Alliance guarantees that everyone has to abide by the laws of the dominant species in a particular territory. Since humans don't understand alien law, they often get into danger and wish to escape. For example, some alien laws punish people for accidents, and some claim the descendants of the perpetrators. These humans apply to agencies that help them "Disappear" and start a new life under a new identity. However, they are still in danger from Trackers who try to locate them. Sometimes there is a reason to locate them without endangering them, and this is where Retrieval Artists come in. The main character of the series, Miles Flint, leaves his job as a police detective in order to become a Retrieval Artist.

I believe that series are intended to be read in order. When I see a book in a bookshop that says "second in the X series" or "stunning sequel to..." or something, I put it back on the shelf. If I am interested enough, I try to find the previous book(s) in the series and read them in order. While some authors claim that each book can be read as a "stand alone novel", usually either the reader misses out by not knowing the back story, or the author feels the need to put in explanations of the back story for new readers, which can become a burden as the series progresses and more info dumps are required.

With this series, I was fortunate to start reading from the beginning, and have been following the books as they have been published. The books are an easy read, with short chapters alternating between different view point characters. This does not mean they are light material, as their subject matter is often serious and the atmosphere can be quite dark.

The idea of having to follow the laws of a culture you don't understand seems relevant to our politically correct world, where people don't dare say that the legal and cultural norms of other societies might be, by any standards, "barbaric". I think opponents of the death penalty will find some of the ideas in this series interesting.

The current volume, Duplicate Effort, explores the growing relationship between Miles and his clone daughter Talia, and also the issue of prejudice against clones, which could be seen as equivalent to any sort of prejudice in our world (racism, discrimination against people with different abilities, etc.). It is sad, but realistic, to think that even when humanity encounters many sentient species it will not become a united and egalitarian society. In fact, the novels demonstrate the humans remain entirely unchanged, with the full range of human motivations, flaws and weaknesses.

Another issue raised is the risks people take when trying to discover the truth. A journalist is killed for investigating some illegal and unethical activity, which of course happens in our world as well. It does appear that some people either ignore the risks or are willing to take them, while others would not even consider acting against a dangerous opponent.

As the series progresses, the regular characters develop and grow, reacting to the events of their lives. The setting, Armstrong city, has become familiar. While I can't say I wait breathlessly for the next book, I'm always glad when I find it in the bookshop, and I hope this series continues in years to come.

No comments: