Review: “This Alien Shore,” C.S. Friedman

Pros: Stunning worldbuilding; amazing characters; wonderful plotting
Rating: 5 out of 5

In C.S. Friedman’s This Alien Shore young Jamisia Shido is forced to abandon the corporate habitat she’s lived in for some time as it is destroyed around her. Her tutor, who had been instructed to kill her in such a scenario, instead helps her to escape. But she’s hardly safe–she’s potentially the most valuable fugitive in the known universe. Her head is full of mysterious upgrades, and a handful of additional personalities to go with. Her real value, however, is as a potential means to break the Guild’s monopoly on space travel. When space travel was first implemented on a large scale, it warped those who traveled on a genetic level. When this was discovered, Earth isolated itself. The Guild was established by Variations (genetically warped humans) who discovered another (dangerous, but not on such a massive scale) way to travel through space, but because it depends on certain Variations, the Guild has a monopoly on such travel. It reestablished connections with Earth, but most of the Variations still hate Earth for abandoning them in their time of need. Earth would do anything to break the Guild’s monopoly on space travel, and Jamisia might be the key to that.

The worldbuilding here is amazing, and well ahead of its time. (It would be ahead of its time even now, and this book was published in 1998.) The Guerans are the Variation that includes “outpilots”. In fact, Guerans are made up of people who were warped mentally more than physically, and we’d consider them mentally ill or handicapped. Instead, the Guerans recognize that each type of personality has its benefits and drawbacks and role in society, and it’s considered part of their responsibility to respond appropriately to a person’s condition rather than expect a person to try to live up to some artificial standard of normalcy. The characters are fascinating and complex, and there’s a ton of politicking, paranoia, and scheming that goes on.

I love C.S. Friedman’s sci-fi even though this is only the third book of hers that I’ve read; I really need to pick up the pace!

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