Monday, January 16, 2012

The Disappeared by Kristine Kathryn Rusch

The Retrieval Artist books, by Rusch, came highly recommended by Orson Scott Card, one of my favorite authors. I've had the third one on my shelves for a while, and finally broke down and bought the first one in the series for my Nook just before Christmas. In The Disappeared, we are introduced to a world where humans have spread out into the solar system and beyond, occupying Mars, Luna, and some enclaves in other solar systems already inhabited by several races of aliens.

From a hard science fiction standpoint, there's nothing really interesting in this novel, just the usual space yachts and laser guns, and people seem to live on the Moon in more or less the same manner as more mundane locations. The interesting concepts here relate to how our society relates to the alien societies with which it must interact.

The timing of my reading the book ended up somewhat topical, as the Iraqi government's refusal to allow our military and contract personnel immunity from prosecution under their laws had a great deal to do with the timing of our troop withdrawal there in the waning days of 2011. In The Disappeared, the real conflict is generated by seeing what happens when our ideas about justice, crime and punishment come into conflict with the legal systems of alien cultures.

On various worlds where humans have been allowed to settle, there are at least three different races who, first, consider different acts to be criminal than we do, and second, punish those acts in ways we seldom, if ever, consider. The Disty punish crimes by brutal acts of murder and dismemberment (in a sort of pour encourager les autres way). The Rev require repayment for a crime by the criminal working at slave labor for twenty years or more. The Wygnans take, by force if necessary, the first-born child of the offender, who is then raised as a Wygnan, not a human, and will never return to human culture nor see her family ever again.

Understandably, people who run afoul of the justice system of these races will go to great lengths to avoid punishment, sometimes taking advantage of a disappearance agency, which relocates them and establishes a completely new, untraceable identity for them. The Disappeared is the story of what happens when the largest of those agencies is sold to new owners who decide that there's a great deal of money to be made by selling the information about the people in their files to the aliens, and turning the perps over to them.

A pretty good start, and worth following up on.

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