Sunday, March 28, 2010

This Alien Shore by C. S. Friedman

thisalienshore From

In a far-future interstellar society, star travel is monopolized by the Outspace Guild, which controls the only method of faster-than-light travel that doesn't result in horrible mutations among the star travelers. Now a deadly software virus is attacking Guild members, so the Guild's investigators, led by Dr. Masada, must learn where it came from and how to defeat it before interstellar society breaks down.

Meanwhile, a young woman, Jamisia Shido, has to flee for her life from a space habitat near Earth, where all mutations are forbidden and launched, if discovered, into Guild-controlled interstellar space. Secret illegal therapy for a disaster that killed her parents has left Jamisia with issues she doesn’t understand and may have made her the key in the fight against the virus.

I picked this book up several years ago, caught by both the blurb and (I’m shallow, I admit it) the beautiful cover. But for some reason, I never got around to reading it. It has remained on the TBR list, because, really, I did want to read it, but somehow it never graduated to “reading it now”. Every so often I would toss it out as a nomination for the monthly SF read on the Beyond Reality book group (great group by the way, I recommend it) in the hope if it got picked, I would get myself organised and actually read it. Finally, it was selected for the group’s March read and yes, I did read it.

And now, it’s taken me well over a month to get to reviewing it. Since it has been so long, I’m just going to start typing and see what appears on the screen, as I’m not sure that I can manage a “proper review”.

This is one of those books that tosses you into the deep end of the story and leave you to drown or swim. As my updates on Goodreads show, I spent almost the first half of the book in a state of confused fascination. The set up is well done – by tossing Jamisia in to the action with no idea of what’s going on Ms Friedman gives the reader a character to follow who is learning what is happening at the same time the reader does.

Slowly, Jamisia works out what has been done to her, even if the why of it remains elusive. Interspersed with Jamisia’s flight across the galaxy, we also follow the Guerans (who hold the monopoly on spaceflight due to initially unexplained mutations) who are trying to track and destroy a virus that is killing their space pilots. This section of the book slowly leads to the why of what has been done to Jamisia.

It is only at the end that all the pieces come together and you learn exactly what has been going on and how it all fits. I really enjoyed the mystery of This Alien Shore and slowly being able to work it all out. As I said above, it took me a while to figure out what was going on, but I thought Ms Friedman placed all the clues and important of pieces of information in plain sight right from the beginning and all the hints built on each other until I had enough to figure it out.

Some of the Beyond_Reality readers felt that the book failed because there were no characters in it that they could identify with. I certainly agree that this is a book about ideas and concepts more than anything else, but I didn’t have any problem with the characters. They too were mysteries to be explored, but unlike many books where the goal is to discover who the characters are, this time it was more a case of what and why. I am usually a character reader myself, but this time the lack of intense characterisation didn’t bother me and I loved the book all the same. I think a lot of that is because the mystery element is so strong within an SF story, so I still got lots of things I like.

The SF aspects of the book are more than just a background to the mystery though. They are the very reason for the mysteries facing the characters. The basic idea is that when mankind first left Earth for the stars, the drive system used caused massive mutations in the human genome (some of this seemed a little far fetched to me as I’m not quite sure how humans turn in octopus-like creatures etc). When the people back on Earth discovered this they immediately cut off all their colonies. Much later, those colonies (or more specifically, specific Guerans) discovered a new, safer form of space travel and went home to Earth, only to find their mutations despised by the supposedly “pure” humans. This conflict is integral to both the set-up and resolution of the book and I felt it was well developed.

So all in all, I really enjoyed This Alien Shore and I’m glad that I have finally read it. I apologise to those Beyond-Reality members who didn’t enjoy my choice, but it worked for me.

This Alien Shore
C. S. Friedman 
Read: 12-2-19 to 22-2-10


Bonnie Jacobs said...

Hey, Kerry! I have now read and reviewed The American Heiress. Thanks for telling me about it. Here's the URL for my review:

orannia said...

Great review Kerry. I enjoyed it when I read it, but I think now I perhaps wouldn't enjoy it as much now because I need charcterization.

And I should check out the GR group - it sounds good.