- Shopping Bag ( 0 items )
From Barnes & NobleThe Barnes & Noble Review
When you wear enough weaponry to level a small city, it's never a good idea to let your emotions get the best of you. Lawrence Newton is angry and scared. This combination of feelings was unthinkable a couple of weeks ago as his squad prepared for their second "asset realization mission" on Thallspring, a bucolic colony planet. Thallspring was due to pay another dividend on their development loan, whether they liked it or not.
Over the years and across the planets, no one had been able to stand up to the giant corporations' technological superiority. Their purchase of outstanding loan obligations from companies no longer willing to put in the effort to collect had been very profitable. But profit margins shrunk with the logistics of interplanetary travel to colonies further down the galactic arm, and delays or losses of men or materials could quickly put a mission in the red. The disastrous events of Santa Chico had been the beginning of the end for realization missions. The locals not only repelled the invaders, inflicting huge losses in life and capital, but were now exporting their genetic manipulation techniques to other worlds looking to bolster their defenses against the corporate raiders.
Company intelligence had charted Thallspring's development and declared that they were ready for collection and of no threat to the security of the mission at all. To Lawrence, however, it appeared that Thallspring had been an eager customer and had made some modifications of their own. As a kid, he'd never given any thought to being a pirate. He dreamt of piloting starships to unknown regions of this and other galaxies. But in order to become a pilot, he had to give up his birthright stake in the corporation that had been his whole life, and start at the bottom with a competitor -- the only corporation that still invested in exploration and colonization. Bottom was a strategic security squad member, called a Skin, based on their bio-armor that was both a shield and a weapon. He and his squad landed on creditor planets and demanded payments on loans. Backed by overwhelming firepower and "might makes right" legality, they diverted whatever valuable production that was available from the worlds' factories and, regularly, anything else that took their fancy. At first, there was a rationale to what he did. Companies put together consortiums to supply the materials and credit necessary to enable the colonists to survive in their new homes, and even to prosper. It was prosperity that drove the consortiums, the expectation of a return on investment. The huge fees levied to potential colonists were not even close to covering the costs involved in jump-starting a new world; they usually only covered the costs of getting the colonists there. But to leave a crowded Earth for the promise of paradise, there was no shortage of takers. In addition to the fees, colonists contracted to pay steep and prolonged interest on the loans necessary to outfit an extra-planetary expedition.
When disagreements arose as to the schedule of repayment, Lawrence and his men were the muscle that backed up the tax collector. He was there to legally enforce a contract against deadbeats who got what they wanted and now didn't want to pay for it. He soon found out that colonies are usually reluctant to have their economies stripped to pay the usurious fees demanded by a heavily armed tax collecting invasion force. This sometimes required acts that demonstrated the resolve of the collectors -- like making vast tracts of land forever uninhabitable or selecting hostages whose lives acted as collateral against disruptions in the factories. Still, they always left the infrastructure intact so that the economy could recover and be reharvested on the next payment date visit.
In the middle of a firefight against heavily armed and technologically superior foes, as his usually invulnerable armor rocked from blows that steadily wore down his crumbling defenses, he reaffirmed that his employment with Zantiu-Braun was officially over. Years invested in the pursuit of his dream had only gotten him one step further up a really tall ladder in the Z-B hierarchy, as lesser qualified but better connected people filled all available openings. It was time to take the easy step that so many of his pillaging comrades had made and ask, "where's mine?" The only irony was that, as a soldier, he could not uncover the subversives he was sure had so successfully camouflaged their attacks as accidents and equipment glitches, no matter what trap he set or what checks he ran. When searches uncovered no evidence of tampering, his superiors dismissed his suspicions as just bad luck and paranoia. But the bad luck continued to plague them. Now, when he'd deserted and taken his squad out for personal gain, to get the stake that would enable them to get away, they'd revealed a treasure beyond value but they wouldn't live to enjoy it.
Peter Hamilton writes broad, sweeping scientific and social fiction. His Night's Dawn trilogy (The Reality Dysfunction, The Neutronium Alchemist, and The Naked God) -- where souls of the dead escape from hell and wage war against the living for available bodies -- was a huge acclaimed favorite and is a must-read for fans of grand space opera. How do you defeat an army of the dead who take over living bodies, without killing the bodies and adding to their number?
Hamilton is establishing himself as a great storyteller. Having won a British Sci-Fi Award for best short story, Fallen Dragon should put him on the fast track for either Nebula or Hugo novel consideration. I grabbed the book because of its pedigree and enjoyed every word. Oh, and did I mention that it was also a love story? (B.B.)