Caught in the Crossfire
Jani Killian is hiding out in a dull job on an backwater planet when her carefully reconstructed life is thrown into disarray by the reopening of diplomatic relations between the humans and the alien Idomeni. This is unwelcome news for Jani, who was involved in the first associations between humans and Idomeni, an experiment that ended in death and destruction for all concerned. Jani herself was only saved by medical science verging on the illegal and managed to disappear; missing, presumed dead. Worse is to come when a face from her past appears. Evan Van Reuter, politician and just to complicate matters, Jani’s former lover needs her help; his wife has been murdered and he’s not sure whom he can trust among his staff, given the tensions between space centrist and colony separatist factions among the ruling elite. He needs someone on his side, someone who knows where the bodies are buried. He needs Jani, who buried some of those bodies. There’s still a warrant out on her about that, which makes Evan’s offer one she finds she can’t refuse.
This is an agreeably convoluted space yarn, with a sympathetic, realistic heroine who’s seen life, been battered by it but remains unbowed as she works her way through the maze of secrets and lies, grudges and ambition that is Evan’s world. Characterisation of main and subsidiary characters is well observed and motivations are realistically complex. There’s also a pleasing thread of sharp humour running through the story. The imagined future is a satisfying blend of plausible extensions of current technology and political systems. Some elements are familiar; the trash zapper bins and replicator machines. Some stock themes are given new twists; mental enhancements and limb replacement technologies have their failings. Other aspects of this future are intriguingly novel; when electronic data is considered vulnerable, hard copy documents become the foundation of all transactions, updated with sufficient technical wizardry to foil forgery that document analyst is a profession in its own right. The Idomeni are aliens whose social and cultural peculiarities are mentioned in passing and where germane to the plot without tedious info-dumping for the hard-of-understanding. As a result, they remain convincingly alien rather than essentially human with latex foreheads.
The resolution accords with some of the expectations built up through the book and confounds others, just to keep you guessing. It’s a story complete in itself but there are sufficient windows of opportunity to leave me hoping we’ll see more of Jani Killian. I’ll certainly be reading Kristine Smith from now on.
This review originally appeared in The Alien Online.