Monday, January 14, 2013

Book Review: The Kassa Gambit

Centuries after the ecological collapse of Earth, humanity has spread among the stars. Under the governance of the League, our endless need for resources has driven us to colonize hundreds of planets, all of them devoid of other sentient life. Humanity is apparently alone in the universe.

Then comes the sudden, brutal decimation of Kassa, a small farming planet, by a mysterious attacker. The few survivors send out a desperate plea for aid, which is answered by two unlikely rescuers. Prudence Falling is the young captain of a tramp freighter. She and her ragtag crew have been on the run and living job to job for years, eking out a living by making cargo runs that aren’t always entirely legal. Lt. Kyle Daspar is a police officer from the wealthy planet of Altair Prime, working undercover as a double agent against the League. He’s been undercover so long he can't be trusted by anyone—even himself.

While flying rescue missions to extract survivors from the surface of devastated Kassa, they discover what could be the most important artifact in the history of man: an alien spaceship, crashed and abandoned during the attack.

But something tells them there is more to the story. Together, they discover the cruel truth about the destruction of Kassa, and that an imminent alien invasion is the least of humanity’s concerns.

Technically speaking this is closer to a 3.5 because while the mystery of Kassa drew me in, the writing style left me feeling unenchanted. It was very...stark feeling. Especially in the beginning, it felt as if someone was just reading off the important information. Prudence talks about her crew, crew she will regret seeing go and will miss, very clinically. Kyle sort of behaves in the same manner about the crew he is forced to endure in the beginning, but he has no love for them (nor they for him) so it makes a bit more sense.  

This largely goes away around 2/3rds of the way through, but makes an abrupt return sporadically jarring me out of the reading zone.

This also had a very familiar feeling to it and it took me a while to figure out what that feeling was - anyone who has watched Blake's 7 or Farscape or Serenity may experience the same sort of thing. Prue's crew is ragtag and mismatched, all folk trying to duck out on the official Government levels for various reasons (even Kyle to a certain extent) making their way in the universe doing what they can to survive. They run afoul of a deeper conspiracy (Kassa) and feel honor bound, in a weird way, of seeing it through to the end. Though as Planck has listed Firefly as an inspiration for this novel, that's hardly surprising.

I'll give Planck credit however, the science fiction part of this novel doesn't ever delver anywhere I couldn't keep up with, which is rather remarkable once the secret worth killing for rears its ugly (ugly) head.  There's also an impressive use of double talk--politically and legally speaking, which was fun to decipher.  Its a bit ruined by the fact Kyle kept confusing matters internally, thus breaking up the narrative somewhat, but ignoring his 'I'm so confused by this doublespeak' thoughts helped.

This isn't a very long book--288 pages, which makes this a quick read.  Parts get bogged down by sciencey-talk, or political talk and there's even some discussion that transcends the metaphysical, but by in large a reader can breeze through this and not be confused. Until the end, it gets a bit jumbled when Pru and co are racing through the nodes ahead of the Big Bad at one point.  And honest to god I kind of felt dejavu because it really does follow an eerily similar plot progression with Serenity at the very end.  

The characters are agreeable enough; Pru is slightly inconsistent in how she acts (though it may partially be because Kyle's impression of her vs. how she thought she presented herself were wildly different) and Kyle is a bit manic, but I enjoyed both of them coming up with every paranoid excuse in the book as to how the other one wants them dead.  The secondary characters had a bit more life to them--I especially liked Jorgun and Jandi, who both shared a love of Marvin the Martian.

The ending is anticlimatic--more political than anything else and largely dealt with in the epilogue as 'and this is what happened after' fashion.  Still the mystery of Kassa kept me engaged until the very end.