C. S. Friedman Novels

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This Alien Shore By C. S. Friedman

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This is a complex, but interesting novel. Mankindís first experience in space travel ended disastrously when it was discovered that it caused severe genetic damage to the travelers. Known as the Hausman effect, it caused Earth to abruptly discontinue all contact with her colonies. The Variants, as they came to be called, were left to fend for themselves. Ultimately, the Guerans brought space travel back to Earth. Unlike many of the Variants, they physically resembled humans. The Gueransí Variation was of the mind and psyche and it was this mutation which enabled them to brave the dangers of space. Their resulting monopoly on space travel and the control exerted by The Guild over intergalactic commerce causes many to fear, hate and envy them. Additionally, there is dissension between the Variants and Earth. The Variants have not forgotten, or forgiven, Earthís abandonment while Earth still fears the strangeness of the Variants.

In Friedmanís universe the internet is an archaic concept. Rather, she speaks of the Innernet, a planet-wide communication system, and the Outernet, a network spanning the galaxy. Although computers still exist, they are almost entirely obsolete. It has long been decreed that every child would have a computer chip installed in his or her brain at birth. This brainware allows the user to control and access information at a level far beyond our current standards. Now imagine the chaos and destruction that would occur if a virus was let loose in such circumstances. Add in the various factions (Terrans, Guerans, Variants, etc.) and you get a society on the edge of explosion. This is exactly the situation Friedman explores in this novel. She has created several main characters and switches back and forth between them and their seemingly disconnected stories. Jamisia Shido is an orphan, cared for by her tutor, living on a corporate habitat. When treachery befalls the habitat, she is suddenly pushed into a universe of intrigue for which she is ill prepared. Dr. Kio Masada is a highly respected Gueran programmer, trying to unravel the secrets of the virus. Phoenix, a hacker, is trying to discover the creator of the virus, for his own personal reasons.

Friedman has developed a highly complex scenario that can be read on several different levels. On the surface it is purely a high-tech mystery, but if you read more closely Friedman has a lot to say about the way people interact and deal with our differences. You wonít need to speak "computerese" to understand the problems caused by the computer virus or the efforts made to stop it. You also wonít need to be a psychologist to understand the personalities involved. Additionally, Friedman has inserted some interesting information between chapters. These "asides" provide some important background along the way and shouldnít be skipped over. Overall, Friedman brings all of the various elements of this novel together into a well-knit whole. The characters are interesting and recognizable. I cared about what happened to them and, although it takes a while for the big picture to come into focus, it is well worth waiting for. This is the first book Iíve read by Friedman, but I definitely plan to add her books to my "must read" list.

Reviewed by: Diane

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