Monday, July 17, 2006

Book 55: Crossing the Line

In City of Pearl Karen Traviss introduced us to Shan Frankland, an Environmental Hazard cop (En-Haz). Frankland, on the brink of retiring, was sent to Cavanagh’s Star II on a mission that because of a Suppressed Briefing she would not remember until certain words and locations triggered the memory. Frankland is a hard woman, a hard cop, and one who has let her personal morality influence how she does her job. She is very capable and when she needs to act, she does not hesitate. On CSII, Frankland discovers the surviving human colony, but also the alien Aras of the wess’har. Aras has been modified by a symbiotic disease called c’naatat which has given him extraordinary long life as well as making him incredibly difficult to kill. It has also alienated him from his own people. He is literally untouchable, and the wess’har are a physical race. Frankland sides in every dispute with the native humans, wess’har, and bezeri over the scientists and military that is under her command on the mission, but there are disputes and accidents and in the end Shan Frankland is infected with the c’naatat. She will be changed by it, making her more and less than human. She decides to remain with the wess’har and to attempt to serve them as she can to help prevent a possible conflict with humanity.

This brief and dirty synopsis brings us up to Crossing the Line, the second novel in the Wess’har Wars. Shan Frankland is adapting to c’naatat and being cut off from humanity. She knows that she would be used to duplicate the c’naatat for human use and the last thing humanity needs is fast breeding humans who won’t die. Frankland advises the Wess’har leadership of ways to “discourage” Earth from sending any more ships or fleets to CS2. There would not be much of a book here if there was not a further human intrusion on CS2, so it spoils nothing to say that the potential conflict is not over, and there are personal issues from Frankland’s former team to contend with.

Karen Traviss is very quickly becoming one of my favorite science fiction authors. Her writing is sharp and the characters she chooses to focus on are drawn out very vividly. We can tell who is talking or thinking by how they think and talk, even if names are not given. The primary characters have a distinct voice. If I spend time thinking about it, Crossing the Line does suffer from “Middle Book Syndrome”. While there is a clear beginning and end to the book (and this is a huge plus), the ending serves to set up The World Before. Karen Traviss writes character driven science fiction. The character of Shan Frankland is central to the story here and she is not a placeholding character which could be substituted by just anyone. Her beliefs drive her actions and her actions are what drive the plot of the novel. Everything that Frankland does is consistent with her character and the good decisions have negative consequences and her wrong decisions have consequences as well. Frankland feels real, all of Traviss’s characters do. She even creates a believable alien culture. The pace of Crossing the Line is a little bit odd because throughout the novel Frankland is working to prevent something, so there is a narrative tension but not a real hard driving pace. It’s more of anticipation. I will absolutely not spoil the ending here, but I was left shocked by how the novel ended and the “event” changed the nature of where the series could possible go. Very powerful.

There are certain things that I know will occur in the next volume because of how Traviss set up the characters and situation, but I don’t know to what extent or how much, and I can’t wait to find out what happens next. The joy is in the discovery when books are as well written as the work Karen Traviss publishes.

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