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Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Overlooked Debut: “Peacekeeper” by Laura E. Reeve (Reviewed by Liviu C. Suciu)

Official Laura E. Reeve Website
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INTRODUCTION: I found out about Laura E. Reeve’s wonderful debut novel “Peacekeeper”, in Robert’s latest monthly Spotlight (December 2008). Once I read an excerpt, I bought the novel on the spot and, liking it quite a lot—much more than I expected in fact—I finished it immediately…

SETTING: Sometime in the future, humanity is divided into two major polities and an independent but essential spacefaring community. About a hundred years ago, mysterious and seemingly powerful aliens—called Minoans because of their culture's resemblance to the ancient one in Knossos—contacted Earth.

Veiled and mysterious even after a century of interactions, the Minoans offered humanity N-space access (a key to the stars) in return for trade, and play scrupulously by the laws of the respective polity they deal with. The Minoans imposed only one essential set of rules known as the Phaistos Protocols, essentially forbidding military operations against civilian targets. The Minoans take an especial dim view of pirates, “anarchists” and terrorists, and exterminate them mercilessly and efficiently, so human governments tend to do whatever it takes to stay on the aliens’ good side.

N-space offers FTL, but there is a hitch. An N-space buoy needs to be installed by sublight flight to the system to be accessed. So people live for generations on these ships and end up taking the name of their line like Journey, Expedition and Voyage. Every once in a while though, some people “drop off” and pursue a “normal” life, mostly in the liberal Consortium Alliance of Worlds (CAW).

With six “prime” planets and numerous habitats, CAW is a familiar polity, kind of an extension of today's western society—wealthy, democratic, liberal, Greek-speaking and commerce-oriented. Opposing CAW is the Terran Expansionist League (TerraXL), a mysterious society, seemingly hierarchical, and ruled by a group of “Overlords”. TerraXL practices strict genetic controls aimed at evolving humanity into a race of “superhumans”. For fifty years, CAW and TerraXL fought a war against each other and in that time, both sides developed terrible Temporal Distortion (TD) weapons, which supposedly can shut down a sun, and in turn, shut down the N-space buoy.

Fifteen years ago, the CAW leadership sent a starship piloted by our main heroine of the novel, Ariane Kedros, to fire TD missiles in the Ura-Guinn system, destroying the N-space buoy and presumably the sun which would have led “indirectly” to the deaths of four billion people. This action shocked everyone, leading the Minoans to intervene and impose an armistice and the mutual decommissioning of the TD weapons.

Ariane meanwhile, is wracked by guilt for the Ura-Guinn act even though she was just the pilot and was following orders however misleading. To protect herself from TerraXL, she chooses an experimental rejuvenation and total rewrite of her records, but is still considered a major in the CAW military, and is currently working as a pilot and minority owner of a startup exploration firm, called Aether Exploration.

Owen Edones is a colonel in the CAW Intel and Ariane’s superior and minder, who took care of her identity masking details.

Matt Journey is an early thirties generation ship drop off and now explorer/majority owner of Aether Exploration, and has an unacknowledged crush on his nominal subordinate Ariane.

State Prince Isrid Sun Parmet is a high level official of TerraXL and is charged by his boss, Overlord 3, to supervise the TD destruction treaty in CAW space. As it happens, his brother was living on Ura-Guinn and is presumed dead which is even more painful since they were planning to join their households together and have cross-children in the genetically approved “multimarriage” families of Terra.

Since the Ura-Guinn attack, an unknown assassin has been murdering those people involved in the incident, despite their secret identities. Col. Icelos, whose identity was also modified because of the Ura-Guinn incident, is on a CAW peacekeeping mission, but has been targeted by the killer and it’s Ariane’s job to protect him.

FORMAT/INFO:Peacekeeper” stands at 324 pages divided over twenty-two numbered chapters. Each chapter is prefaced by a quote from some contemporary source that adds to the excellent world building of the novel without using text infodumps. The narration is mostly in the third-person, present tense, but is interjected with flashbacks to the Ura-Guinn incident and earlier moments in Ariane’s career. There are two main POVs in the book, Ari and Matt, with SP Parmet a third POV, but with less face time. Owen Edones is also a main character that appears throughout the novel, but is always seen through the eyes of Ari or Matt. With a great ending that ties all of the threads together, “Peacekeeper” is a wonderful sf debut and an excellent start to a series that I am looking forward to continuing. December 2, 2008 marks the Mass Market Paperback publication of “Peacekeeper” via
Roc Books.

PLOT HINTS AND ANALYSIS: Recently there have been quite a few novels that feature a strong heroine with a military background who is haunted by a dark past/secrets, and becomes caught up in major events. Some of these books I really liked; others not so much. But there are three main criteria I use to asses such titles: how interesting is our heroine, the worldbuilding, and writing style.

Peacekeeper” excels in the first two criteria, while I found the writing style so engaging I couldn’t put down the book.

Of the first criteria, Ari is a complex heroine and drug addict who manages to mask her problems to Matt even though she is not allowed detox treatments. So she gets by day-to-day by staying involved in her exploration duties as well as the occasional intelligence assignments. But in her interactions with SP Parmet and his entourage—who would cheerfully torture her and dump her from an airlock were they to find out who she really is—as well as with the Minoans that know her as “Destroyer of Worlds”, Ari may find a key to at least partial redemption.

Matt and Owen are very well drawn characters too, particularly their mutual dislike for one another due to their “competition” for Ari, which slowly thaws as they are thrown together into the thick of the action. State Prince Parmet, who is getting weary of the scars of war and is trying to adapt to the modern times of CAW, is also quite interesting and complex.

The worldbuilding meanwhile is absolutely great, particularly since we’ve only scratched the surface of the setting in this novel. I especially loved the vivid descriptions on the CAW worlds and habitats, which is a setting that I really could imagine living in. The Minoans and the Terrans remain mysterious however, but I hope in future novels we will get to learn more about the two societies…

Though somewhat mislabeled as military science fiction—the book is more of an adventure sf/mystery/space opera on par with Jaine Fenn’sPrinciples of Angels” and Adam-Troy Castro’sEmissaries from the Dead”, and almost at the level of Gary Gibson’sStealing Light”—Laura E. Reeve’sPeacekeeper” is a great debut with the potential of evolving into an even greater series. Highly recommended…


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