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Blade Dancer

by SL Viehl

(Roc Books, Canada $34.50 / US $22.95, 314 pages, hardback, 2003. ISBN: 0-451-45926-1.)

Although set in the same universe as S.L. Viehl's cover scanacclaimed StarDoc series, this book is a stand-alone involving new characters. It does bring back some favorite (and unfavorite) cultures and customs: the clannish Jorenians, the obnoxiously bigoted Terrans, and the game of shockball. If you think hockey is rough, imagine playing it with an electric puck.

Thus, enter Jory Rask, a professional shockball player and very illegal alien. In the very first chapter she loses her mother, then gets beaten to a pulp and kicked off the planet. From there things just get worse. Obeying the wishes of her dead mother, Jory sets off to find the other "ClanChildren of Honor" ... six other half-Jorenian offspring sired after their mothers were captured in a raid and sold to slavers. Together they find out what honor and family are really about, in a universe that pays more lipservice than respect to both.

Viehl has created a future far darker than average for space-faring science fiction, and embarrassingly plausible. You'll recognize the petty politics, the snobbery, the robber-barons, the myriad faces of I'm-better-than-you even when some of the faces are covered in fur or scales. Fast ships and fascinating technology can't make up for a near-complete lack of anything resembling ethics.

Yet there are also characters who refuse to give up just because the world is a mucked-up mess. They insist on behaving with integrity even with few or no good examples, creating neutral ground in the midst of war and chaos. They fight for freedom beyond hope, and when the rules are no good, they throw the rules out the window and make new ones. That's what being a hero means.

Blade Dancer is a gripping adventure with a warm side that sneaks up and snuggles when you least expect it. There's an edge to it that reminds me of cyberpunk, though it's not really computer-oriented. Especially check it out if you're interested in racism, classism, and other social barriers. People who enjoy playing or watching contact sports will appreciate the author's fervent loyalty to game detail and its effects on the characters. Highly recommended.

Review by Elizabeth Barrette.

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