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From Barnes & NobleThe Barnes & Noble Review
L. E. Modesitt is loved and admired for his science fiction and fantasy novels, which include the Recluce series, the Spellsong Cycle, and the Ecolitan thrillers, among others. The Octagonal Raven is a cinematic SF suspense novel that asks hard questions about our own society, while providing all the thrills a science fiction reader could wish for -- plenty of fascinating tech, a surprising twist on what aliens are really visiting us for, exciting chase scenes and pyrotechnics, a blossoming romance, and a truly satisfying conclusion.
Daryn Alwyn is a likable guy, younger son of the Alwyn dynasty that controls UniComm, the largest media network of the year 458 N.E. Wanting to go his own way, he served the Federal Union as a pilot for nearly 20 years, then made his living as a "methodizing" analyst and editorial columnist for various net systems. Daryn never wanted to join the family firm. He thinks of himself as a modest raven among the high-flying eagles.
So why is someone trying to kill him? Does it have something to do with the alien artifact he helped discover as a pilot? Is it because he is a member of the wealthy elite, those with "pre-selected" genetic advantages and nanotech augmentation? Have his "edart" pieces about society angered someone? Or does he know something -- or somebody -- making him dangerous to those in the high seats of power?
He must learn why, and soon, because several highly sophisticated murder attempts have Daryn on the run. As Daryn and his friend, the lovely, intelligent Majora, pursue clues about his would-be assassins, he learns of a conspiracy that for centuries has been manipulating economics, education, and genetic evolution, as well as habits of thought and value systems. Traveling through the neighborhoods of normal, unaugmented humanity, he must come to grips with the anger felt by the "norms" toward people like him. Through Daryn's eyes, we realize the variety of radical social changes that biotechnology and reliance on the Internet may bring about in the future.
Modesitt has written a brilliantly plotted critique of human history and the unexamined assumptions of science fiction itself in The Octagonal Raven. As Daryn flails about in a mesh of fear and bewilderment, he grows more determined to find the conspirators who seek to keep people -- norms and pre-selects alike -- in the dark about the power structure that controls where they go, what they buy, even how they think.
More dangerously, he decides that he will strike back at the conspiracy with the most powerful weapon available to him -- the truth. Remember the Raven when planning your vote for the 2003 Hugo. (--Fiona Kelleghan)
Fiona Kelleghan is a librarian at the University of Miami. Book reviews editor for Journal of the Fantastic in the Arts, she has written reviews and articles for Science-Fiction Studies; Extrapolation; The New York Review of Science Fiction; Science Fiction Research Association Review; Nova Express; St. James Guide to Science Fiction Writers; Magill's Guide to Science Fiction and Fantasy Literature; Neil Barron's Fantasy and Horror: A Critical and Historical Guide; Contemporary Novelists, 7th Edition; and American Women Writers. Her book Mike Resnick: An Annotated Bibliography and Guide to His Work was published by Alexander Books in 2000.