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Balance of Trade: A Liaden Universe Novel

by Sharon Lee and Steve Miller

(Meisha Merlin, 2004. US $16.95 trade paperback, 457 pages. ISBN: 1-59222-020-7.)

Review by Elizabeth Barrette

Tcover scanhe copyright page notes that portions of this novel first appeared as a novella in Absolute Magnitude #11. I discovered it myself in one of the self-published pamphlets of Liaden fiction which the authors put out -- and as soon as I met Jethri Gobelyn, I figured he was in for a lot more adventure than laid out in that one little story. I wanted to read more about him. "More" was duly provided by Meisha Merlin deciding to reprint the out-of- print Liaden novels and contract for new ones, including this one. Hats off to some editors who are manifestly not asleep at the wheel.

Balance of Trade concerns the relationship between Terran and Liaden cultures ... not "first contact" but rather the point when increasing influence began to force people in each culture to deal with people in the other. It begins with a con artist abusing the worth of a Liaden's name, a Master Trader's name, to fool young Jethri out of his money. Master Trader Norn ven'Deelin is sufficiently impressed by Jethri's handling of the situation that she takes him as her apprentice. Though a diligent student in all matters Liaden, Jethri innocently runs afoul of a long-held grudge, which puts him and his distant family at risk. It turns out that Jethri's deceased father had also had an interest in certain ancient, forbidden, and vividly dangerous technology -- some of which comes into Jethri's keeping. All the plot threads come together in a glorious big tangle at the end.

If you have enjoyed other Liaden stories, this is a must-have. It's an ideal choice for science fiction fans in general, with an exuberant voice that harks back to classic SF of grand adventures in space exploration. The sociological and technological aspects are exceptionally well balanced and interdependent. Most highly recommended.

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