Friday, October 26, 2012

Book Review: The Disappeared

"The Disappeared"
Kristine Kathryn Rusch


The Disappeared follows newly-promoted detective Miles Flint and his partner DeRicci as they investigate an mysterious yachts that wash up on their moon base, containing everything from gruesomely murdered bodies to kidnapped children.  Intertwined with their story is that of Ekaterina, whose attempt to run from her past quickly takes disastrous turn, and Jamal, whose secret causes the loss of his son.  Shady corporate practices and alien diplomacy feature heavily in this thrilling science fiction adventure.


The novel opens with a bang.  In the very first chapter we're introduced to three different characters going through three very different bad days.  The action between them is well-balanced and the writing is clean and crisp.  Tensions grow and chases ensue.  For the first 50 pages, I could not put the book down.  The suspense and action carried me easily through the four hundred pages.

Ekaterina's story is particularly heart-pounding, as we witness this calm lawyer taking bold action, improvising, and drawing on all her skills just to survive.  Flint and DeRicci's arcs began slowly, but as cases pile up and alien demands clash with their values, you can see them being pushed to the brink.

Unfortunately, the ending couldn't really maintain such an action-packed start.  The climax hinged heavily on alien diplomacy and legal loopholes, a rather underwhelming finish.  Despite the detectives, the case was straight-forward and there was no mystery to be revealed at the end.  There were also several points which caused me to revoke my suspension of disbelief.  (See Rant.)

Of the four main characters, one had a drastic change of heart (which I found a tad unbelievable), another's arc ended abruptly, and a third's never went anywhere to begin with.  The exception was DeRicci, who had grown to develop a respect for Flint, while revealing hidden depths to the reader.  On the whole, I ended the story feeling vaguely dissatisfied, though this was largely disappointment that a strong start didn't have a strong end.

Rant (Warning: Spoilers)

The premise of aliens being legally able to kidnap human children for the crimes of their parents was as frustrating as it was intriguing.  I could not believe a democratic society that valued individual life could be so blasé about aliens snatching infants in the middle of the night and destroying their personality.  Particularly since it could happen to almost anyone.  For example, a woman who accidentally killed some sentient moss very nearly lost the children of employees who never even stepped foot on the alien planet.  That's like working for Wal-mart and then one day having your children held hostage because the CEO made a bad deal with China.

It's a deliberately infuriating incident, and I just can't accept that it never made the news or caused debate about trading children away for the rights to alien bottled water (seriously).  But maybe the author has expanded on this point elsewhere.  The Disappeared is labeled a "Retrieval Artist" novel.  Maybe the politics are highlighted elsewhere.

But that doesn't explain the idea of lying to an alien species who abhor lies.  One of the main climatic points is that the Rev, a short-tempered, slightly aggressive group, are stewing in a police room, waiting for them to turn over a prisoner.  Only problem: the prisoner has escaped.  The police try to distract the aliens while hunting down the prisoner, to no avail.  By the end, the Rev have grown so fed up with the delays, they start tearing the room apart.

Question: Why did no one tell them that they lost the prisoner?

The police seem to think that if they tell the truth, the Rev will go on a rampage through the city, regardless of intergalactic protocol. Well, the police don't know the Rev very well, so it's possible they make wrong assumptions.  But what about the translators and lawyers who specialize in this area?  You'd think they might have some idea.

But these are nit-picky things.  The real elephant in the room is the ending.  Detective Flint finds out that the company that are supposed to help people in trouble with the alien justice system "disappear" has been turning over these people to the aliens instead.  There's nothing illegal about this.  The only thing Flint can do is find a new, more reliable service to help these people instead.  Which he does.  "Data Services" is the name of the company.

So, he takes this information to one of the victims.  First, Flint tells him that they can't legally hold him for more than 24 hours, so he's free to go.  (Hint, hint.)  Then, he asks about disappearance services, including this obscure "Data Services."  (HINT, HINT.)  Oh, and he records this conversation and turns it over to the alien to show that he was following the law to the letter.

Then, Flint resigns.  He hacks into the bad disappearance company's computers, retrieves the names of their clients, and sells them to Data Services.  They will give new identities to those in trouble and get a tidy profit in return.  It's a happy ending.  Except that Flint just told the aliens and the police station that Data Services is the cover for a black market fugitive smuggling ring.  By the way, he neglects to mention this fact to Data Services.

Potentially, Data Services will get shut down by a police sting operation in the coming week, have their lists of fugitives confiscated, and millions of disappeared left vulnerable to the aliens.  And since Flint's no longer part of the force, he can do nothing to stop them.

Not the best thought-out plan, in my opinion.

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