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Space. The Final Frontier. The elephant in the room in any novel that attempts to anchor space travel in reality. How to surmount the unimaginable distances between one solar system and another, or the even greater vastnesses of intergalactic space? Nothing on the horizon today (at least that a mere civilian like me is aware of) comes close to bridging the obstacle of time/distance/relativity inherent in interstellar travel.
Warp drive, wormholes, neurologically or chemically modified pilots, suspended animation, corporate space guilds--these are just some of the means authors have used to open up the final frontier to their characters and readers. "This Alien Shore" uses all of the above and then some. "The Up and Out" is a character in its own right here. The Gueran Outspace Guild trains (breeds?) outpilots who guide spaceships full of sedated passengers through a mysterious deep-space anomoly called the Ainniq (prounounced i' nik) that allows ships to traverse light years in a matter of hours. The passengers must be sedated, says the Guild, so that their mental activity cannot attract the dangerous forces lurking in the Ainniq.
But the Guild’s monopoly on space travel is threatened by Lucifer, a computer virus that has begun to render outpilots insane and/or dead. Then there is Jamisia, a teenage girl forced to flee her home space station without any notice, without knowing why, and all alone. The Outspace Guild and a whole posse of corporate nasties are fighting to be the first to get their hands on Jamisia and what’s in her brain (and just what is that?). Her only hope of salvation is a master hacker who has become obsessed with the Lucifer virus.
“This Alien Shore” is above all a rip-roaring, adventurous chase through space. Will Jamisia outwit and evade her pursuers and will she eventually find out why everyone's after her? Who unleashed Lucifer, and why, and will the Guild be able to contain it in time to save space travel? Along with these adventures, we get to contemplate attitudes on race and mental illness, and, perhaps most strikingly, we get a scenario (nightmare or not, depending on your point of view) of the effects of constant streams of information and communication available to all people all the time through “brainware” implanted at birth (a few steps more advanced than the “smart phones” people seem unwilling to let out of their hands).
I’ve recommended this book to a number of friends and co-workers over the years, not all of them sci fi aficionados, and I think most of them enjoyed it. My personal opinion is that it ranks with classics like "Dune" and "Ender’s Game." The writing gets a little heavy-handed sometimes, but the adventure part of the story never lets up and keeps you guessing to the end, even as you stop and think about the important issues it brings up.
I do suggest you listen to the narration sample before ordering this book. Kathleen McInerney was probably chosen because her pleasant voice is a good fit for the teenage Jamisia. However, she narrates all the other characters as well, and at times I could have wished for a more sophisticated reading. But I found her easy to listen to, and she got better as the book went along.
8 of 8 people found this review helpful
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Originally posted at FanLit.
This Alien Shore is another outstanding science fiction novel by an author who I’ve come to respect immensely for her extraordinarily creative worlds, fascinating ideas, complex characters, and elegant prose. If there’s one flaw (from my perspective) with Friedman’s work, it’s a difficulty in actually liking many of her characters, but even if you find that it’s hard to sympathize with them, it’s also hard not to admire them, or at least to see them as superb creations.
I think many readers will, however, sympathize with Jamisia, the protagonist of This Alien Shore. She’s on the run from unknown enemies who want the bioware that’s in her brain. She can’t feel safe anywhere because she has no idea why her brain is so valuable, or to whom. Is it the Guerran guild that oversees all intergalactic traffic? An Earth corporation who wants to break the guild’s monopoly? Maybe it’s a terrorist from the Houseman Variants — those former humans who were mutated by Earth’s first attempts to break out of the galaxy and now want to punish their Terran ancestors by isolating them.
As Jamisia is trying to evade her unidentified pursuers, she also has to deal with the extra people who live in her head. Humans on Earth have managed to cure all mental disorders, but Jamisia, for some reason, has not been cured of her multiple personality disorder — or perhaps her condition has been purposely created. If Earth finds out that she’s not normal, they will take her into custody.
Fortunately, Jamisia meets a few people who can give her some help, though they’ve got their own issues to deal with. In particular, Phoenix the hacker is trying to trace the origin of Lucifer, a computer virus that’s killing his friends when they’re hooked into the Outernet. Could it be a government plot designed to take out all those Moddies who’ve got illegal bioware installed in their brains? But Lucifer is not only stalking hackers — it’s invading the minds of the pilots who guide spaceships through the Ainniq, the dangerous crack in space/time that’s full of monsters but is the only way to travel to other galaxies. Could the virus be linked to Jamisia’s bioware?
Besides the exciting plot, the most impressive part of This Alien Shore is Friedman’s characterization of Jamisia’s multiple personalities. This was sometimes funny (especially when the emo boy took over), but it was also incredibly eerie. Also well done was Phoenix the hacker. Since I have a son with this type of personality, I can attest that she gets it just right — the arrogance, ambition, curiosity, single-mindedness, and dogged determination to solve a computer programming problem, even if it means ignoring all other aspects of life such as eating.
In many ways, C.S. Friedman’s work reminds me of William Gibson’s — unique settings, complex and fascinating (though not necessarily likeable) characters, cool ideas and technology, a smart and savvy style. Friedman’s plots are always tighter, though. If they haven’t yet, Gibson fans should give Friedman a try.
I listened to Audible Frontier’s production of This Alien Shore which was narrated by Kathleen McInerney. She was new to me, but I thought she was perfect for this story. She has a nice voice and cadence and was convincing in her various roles. This Alien Shore is highly recommended, especially in audio format.
10 of 11 people found this review helpful