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Hoses of the Holy in the Parallel Universe

January 23, 2006

The Disappeared

Kristine Kathryn Rush's The Disappeared is the first in a series of novels set in the milieu of her novella "The Retrieval Artist."

Now, I haven't knowingly read the original novella, though it's on my list of things to do, but I was attracted to Rusch's writings when I read "Diving into the Wreck" in Asimov's magazine.

The Disappeared combines two genres, really, because it's a police procedural with a science fiction backdrop. It's an absolutely cracking premise: imagine cultural relativism and multi-culturalism to an nth degree, whereby humans are obliged to abide by the decisions of multi-cultural courts to pay for the consequences of crimes committed against aliens on alien planets, and the police have to enforce those laws and decisions.

For example, commit a crime against one species, and the courts may rule that your firstborn belongs to that species. Your choice: don't have children, or try to disappear, witness-protection style, and start a new life with no connection to your old. In another instance, your sentence might be several years on an alien penal colony. Disappearance agencies spring up, arranging for people to shed their old identities and live under a new name, somewhere else. But what happens if that agency turns out to have a corrupt employee, willing to sell your new identity to those with the original warrant? And is it really corrupt, when what the agencies are doing is illegal?

It's all good stuff, and Rusch keeps the picture complex. Your sympathies lie both with the helpless fugitives, who in some cases were merely high-spirited youngsters, or didn't understand the laws they broke or the offence they caused; and with the cops who are obliged to enforce the laws they have no liking for - themselves in fear of accidentally crossing the line. Even the aliens are not portrayed as wholly evil - ruthless, perhaps - as they try to see justice done.

There are another 3 novels in this series, with two more on the way, according to the author's web site.


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