(2007) Jeffrey Thomas, Solaris, £7.99, pbk, 512pp, ISBN 1-84416-532-2
This is another 'Punktown' novel featuring the private investigator Jeremy Stake, a mutant with the ability to mimic the faces of others. Once Stake fought a war in another dimension on a blue planet to secure rights to an important gas used by humans in their own dimension. On this planet something has gone wrong with a building project. Autonomous molecular machines have picked up some anomolous programming from somewhere and are now recreating Punktown on the alien world. There are two problems with that. If unchecked the Punktown copy will overrun the border, established at the end of the war, on both sides, displacing a large population and making a mockery of border control. And the other problem is to discover where the three human bodies came from... Clones are illegal, but it seems the molecular machinery building the habitat has failed to make a distinction between the programme it is carrying out, and what to do with organic remains that it encounters. So an old army buddy calls in Jeremy Stake to get to the bottom of the mystery. Are the three bodies those of human MIAs? And if not, who are they? And is the construction of the new Punktown just a runaway accident, or are there beings or people who would like an excuse to start up the Blue War again?
Though I discovered Thomas late, I am glad I did. His stories crack along at a good pace, not too breakneck, not too slow. His characters, especially Stake, are very believable with concerns appropriate to their place in the tale. His plotting is tight and well-thought-through, with next to nothing in the way of loose ends remaining untied. And his prose is very readable; not too dense to confuse you or slow you down, not too condescending to insult your intelligence. All of which would seem to paint Thomas as a middle of the road writer, but nothing could be further from the truth. Every aspect of his work is distinctly above average and, while it might not aspire to great themes or emotional 'truths', it is very entertaining, intelligent and, often, amusing. I for one am happy to give this a high recommendation.
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