.comment-link {margin-left:.6em;}

Hoses of the Holy in the Parallel Universe

March 22, 2006

Karen Traviss: Crossing the Line

One of the most boring aspects of Science Fiction as it is filmed - for movies or TV - is the knee-jerk assumption that humanity is in the right. I'm so bored of the "threat to Earth" theme that it spoils my enjoyment. The greatest weakness of any SF film or TV programme is the production assumption that the audience will not be engaged unless somehow Earth and/or humanity is under threat. As such, there're never any of the real joys of SF - the creation of wonder, or the evocation of the completely alien viewpoint.

This is just one of the reasons to love Karen Traviss' City of Pearl and its sequels. Because although there are a handful of sympathetic human characters, the people you're rooting for are the aliens who are trying to deal with the peculiarly skewed morality of the humans they encounter.

This first sequel, Crossing the Line carries on the story where it left off, with former police officer Shan Frankland learning to cope with her new status as a carrier of an alien parasite that keeps her alive with miraculous healing powers, but also alters her DNA on a whim.

Shan sets up house with Aras, an alien who also carries the parasite, and they begin to deal with the politics of an alien society and the strained diplomatic relations with humans and other species, and the questions raised by disputed territory and a fragile but intelligent water-based species that cannot defend itself.

The issues are both environmental protection and interspecies morality, as incompatible cultures interact. This is a well-paced genre piece that highlights - for example - the horror of a vegetarian species (who consider all creatures to be "people" - intelligent or not) when they encounter meat eaters. More importantly, it's a cracking story with the ultimate heroine: Shan Frankland, a woman who is prepared to make huge sacrifices yet expects and receives no recognition.

In City of Pearl Aras executes a human scientist who dissects an alien child (one of the protected squid-like aliens) after being specifically told not to do such a thing. In Crossing the Line the stakes are raised even higher, as some of the humans commit horrifying acts which both beggar belief and have the sad ring of familiarity. The inevitable escalation is superbly told, and the climax is both shocking and exciting, setting up the next sequel, The World Before.

I've mentioned before that Traviss hasn't got a British publisher, a ridiculous situation, but thank goodness that the internet makes that kind of distinction kind of irrelevant. It's true she writes American-style SF, but she does so in a distinctly British voice, which makes for a refreshing read. Spot on!


Post a Comment

<< Home