(2008) George R.R. Martin, Gardner Dozois and Daniel Abraham, Voyager, £7.99, pbk, 394pp, ISBN 0-00-726022-5
Normally you get an author with a trilogy of books, but here we have, just for a change, a book with a trio of authors! In fact the story of this book (told in an afterward followed by three mini-interviews with each of the authors) is, it has to be said, somewhat more interesting than the book itself. Apparently it all started back in 1976 with an idea generated by Gardner Dozois (to my mind better known as an editor than a writer), which George R. R. Martin picked up and developed between 1977-82, after which it languished in limbo for twenty years until revived by Daniel Abraham in 2002. A novella length version of the story, called Shadow Twin, appeared in 2004 on scifi.com to which Dozois then added back in a number of words which had been cut, bringing it up to novel length, and there you have it. The interviews, brief though they are, are also informative with Dozois thinking of the book as a "rip-roaring adventure tale", Martin pointing to its philosophical issues and Abraham calling it a "psychological allegory".
The story is set in a future in which the human race has basically hitch-hiked itself across the galaxy with the aid of various alien species who seem, on the face of it, uninterested in the types of planets that humans prefer. The aliens themselves seem content to be interstellar traders, but the real politik of the situation is that humans are a dependent client race and do pretty much what the aliens tell them to do. On a planet that has been settled for just over a couple of decades, Ramon Espejo kills the human ambassador from Europa (wrongly called 'European', when in fact it should be 'Europan', but that's (US) Americans for you!) just as a bunch of aliens are due to arrive, when there is sure to be an investigation. He runs off into uncharted territory, mostly to escape justice, but also to prospect for metals. But he gets more than he expected after setting off one of his explosive charges on a mountainside... Different, previously unknown, aliens emerge from within the structure and take Ramon captive. They intend to use him to hunt a human that has discovered their presence, before said human can alert the arriving alien traders. However, it transpires that not all is as it seems, and soon Ramon comes to suspect the truth: he is a clone hunting his 'original' self! Should he continue to help the alien captors (not a moot point when he comes to understand their motivation), or should he team-up with his self to defeat the alien? And, if he does, which of the two Ramons gets to take up his old life? Will either of them be able to when he/they is/are a murder suspect?
Of the three authors perspectives on the tale, Dozois is probably closest to the truth. The book certainly cracks along at a 'rip-roaring' pace and, one way or another, it is a quick read. As for the philosophical and psychological aspects, veteran readers could be forgiven for thinking that that's just par for the course when writing about 'identical' clones. Which is not to belittle those points, just to point out that those ideas are not uncommon in science fiction. I'm happy to recommend the book, though the 'novelty' aspect of having three authors I can take or leave, and I'd probably stick to describing it as an adventure. Whatever it is, it is only a good book, not a great one.
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