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Wednesday, February 27, 2008

"Emissaries from the Dead" by Adam-Troy Castro

Order “Emissaries from the DeadHERE

Although new to me, writer Adam-Troy Castro has been around since the 80s and has produced almost eighty short stories and twelve books which range from Spider-Man tie-in novels to short story collections and non-fiction. His latest offering, “Emissaries from the Dead”, is the author’s first original novel and is set in the same futuristic universe as his short stories “The Funeral March of the Marionettes” (nominated for the Hugo + Nebula Awards) and “The Tangled Strings of the Marionettes” (Nebula nominee), and features Andrea Cort from the novella “Unseen Demons”.

Associate Legal Counsel for the Homo Sapiens Confederacy Diplomatic Corps Judge Advocate—what a title!—Andrea Cort is on her way back to New London for a scheduled sabbatical when she is suddenly diverted to the cylinder world One One One to investigate a murder. An investigation that is hindered by several complications:

1) Unlike most artificial ecosystems, One One One is twenty light years from the nearest inhabited world, is a thousand times larger than the average cylinder world, and is constructed so that the only habitable portion of the habitat is a cluster of vegetation clinging to the interior station axis which is known as the Uppergrowth, while the lower atmosphere is a “poisonous soup of thick gases above a sludgy organic sea.” In other words, One One One is an extremely treacherous environment, especially for someone with an aversion to heights which happens to be the case for Andrea.
2) Because of the Brachiators—engineered sentient lifeforms—eleven different races are involved in a legal battle to institute the Interspecies Covenant. Unfortunately, AIsource has claimed One One One exempt from such treaties and is only allowing one race—humans—to observe the Brachs, but without any diplomatic status meaning they, including Andrea, have no official standing or immunity during their tenure on the habitat.
3) Andrea has orders from her superiors to find the AIsource innocent in the investigation no matter what. Even if all evidence points toward the AIsource being guilty of the murder, it’s her duty to implicate a scapegoat. Otherwise, humanity could find them selves in a war that they would most certainly regret.
4) When Andrea arrives on One One One, she learns of a second murder that raises even more questions.
5) She also learns that she was assigned the investigation for specific reasons, one of which holds the shocking answers of what happened during the horrible Bocai Incident.

In short, it’s an impossible investigation that only gets worse the more involved Andrea becomes, for as the mysteries deepen, so too does the danger and the revelations, many of which will change the Counselor irrevocably. Fortunately, it also makes for great entertainment :) An intense, intelligently conceived murder mystery set in a vividly surreal science fiction backdrop… Just a wonderful concept in my opinion, especially when you factor in everything else the book has to offer starting with Andrea’s intriguing character analysis:

You see, as an eight-year-old child Andrea lived through the Bocai Incident when an unexplained murderous madness suddenly gripped the world’s inhabitants including the girl. From there, Andrea was subjected to years of study before the Diplomatic Corps started employing her as their own personal tool. Because of the Incident though and the ongoing prejudice that she's had to deal with, Andrea became a misanthrope that regards herself as a monster, while constantly contemplating the embrace of death... Like I said, Andrea is pretty fascinating, more so because of the evolution she undergoes throughout the book and the surprising decisions she makes towards the end as a result of everything she's experienced.

Of course there’s a lot of other interesting stuff in the novel as well such as cylinked humans— people who share one personality through multiple bodies, a concept I’ve read recently in Peter F. Hamilton’sThe Dreaming Void” and Paul Melko’sSingularity’s Ring”—the indenture system of the Diplomatic Corps, Adam-Troy Castro’s take on artificial intelligences, and the Brachiators’ subculture, particularly their unique viewpoint on Life & Death (Ghosts). Still, what I enjoyed the most about “Emissaries from the Dead” was the smartly executed murder mystery, the imaginative setting of One One One, and the deep character study of Andrea Cort. Unfortunately, there was one major problem I had with the book and that was the narrative style.

Now because I haven’t read any of Adam-Troy Castro’s other works, I can’t tell if Andrea’s first-person narrative was supposed to be a reflection of her antisocial personality or was just the way the author writes, but I found her ‘voice’ to be incredibly nondescript. I mean she has no flair, she’s not funny—though she tries to be occasionally—and she just really comes across as mechanical. Once again, I’m not sure if that was intentional or not, but I just can’t help wonder how much better the book would have been if Andrea had a more distinctive voice. After all, the rest of the novel was pretty strong from the plotting and pacing to the character development, some excellent SF concepts and thought-provoking themes, not to mention the author showing off his talent for writing horrific imagery. Nevertheless, despite my problems with the narrative I was really impressed with Adam-Troy Castro’s book and will definitely be reading the direct sequel—“The Third Claw of God”—which I have a feeling will be even better…

11 comments:

daydream said...

Sounds spunky. Again a gand review of a really awesome book. How do you find these gems?

Robert said...

Glad you like the review! Normally what I do is look at a publisher's advance publishing schedule and highlight titles that sound interesting to me. This one's been on my list for a while now and thankfully it turned out to be as good as it sounded :)

daydream said...

Nice strategy, I guess. You at least are in the business so reading cool books is your job! I so want that job!

Anonymous said...

Another great review and this one made me buy the book

I checked the 2 FSF stories since my library system offers me full access to a ton of magazines including FSF from 94 on. I remember I found Analog somewhere too, but I cannot find it now from home, so I will try on the libraries computers, maybe it's in a restricted database, since I would like to read the novella too...

Anyway, the novel looks good, and I will read it as soon as possible, though I am reading 4-5 novels at the same (Grimspace, Shadow of the Wind, Last Dragon, this one, Immortal) and Domino Men is due any day too...

Liviu

Princess Allie said...

I loved the characters. My fav was the cylinked pair. When I read the book I felt it was Andrea's personality to be so mono-toned and lifeless. In the start I thought she too negative, but as I read along I got to better understanding on why. I just didn't like the over whelming amount of side characters and the sci-fi jargon.

Robert said...

Daydream, well it's not really my job per se...more like a hobby, but it's a lot of fun!

Liviu, your library sounds great! I wish our had that kind of system :) Anyways, can't wait to hear your thoughts on the book whenever you get a chance to read. Interested in your opinions on "Immortal" too though...

Princess Allie, I really liked the cylinked pair too and hopefully we'll see more of them in the sequel. And according to Adam-Troy, Andrea's personality is going to much different in the next book...hence so will her narrative style :)

Anonymous said...

It's a good idea to check your local library system since it may have lots of goodies, many accessible from home. FSF is in EBSCO and available from home, and Analog in ProQuest but available only from library pc's.

It's true I am lucky to be a member of 2 great library systems, Westchester County, NY where I live and NYC where I work and both offer free databases and many goodies, but lots of library systems do

I finished the 2 marionettes stories by Mr. Castro and they were really, really good

Liviu

Robert said...

Yeah, I'll definitely have to check with my library. After all, you never know :)

[dave] said...

i just put this down and i was really impressed. i found the protagonist to have a pretty nuanced character and voice, and enjoyed that she wasn't a pun-dropping caricature like so many books that get subtitled "a SPUNKY HEROINE NAME novel." and the murder mystery was really well done.

Anonymous said...

I loved the smart and strong female character in this book. The world of the story was pure imagination without being cheese or over the top.

Thivai Abhor said...

Thanks -- spending the night at Occupy Lexington and was looking for an entertaining book to carry me through staying up all night into the morning (as opposed to the usual nonfiction and histories I read for work) -- this was the first book I pulled off my shelf off unread options -- you popped up and now I am looking forward to journeying into the morning!

Solidarity!

Thivai

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