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Biased and superficial Science Fiction reviews

Kingdom Of Cages

Copyright 2001 by Sarah Zettel

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SOJALS rating:     
one SOJALS point one SOJALS point no SOJALS point no SOJALS point no SOJALS point    Mediocre (2/5)

I first read this on the 31st August 2002.

The days of optimistic expansion into space, the colonisation of new worlds, are over. Now a hundreds of years later, the far-flung worlds that humanity had settled are failing. Long-term survival on these alien planets proved tougher than expected. Difficult though colonies are to establish, at least it was found that the colonists were ignored and unaffected by the indigenous flora and fauna. What was not expected was that the alien biology would eventually adapt sufficiently to attack and infect the human colonists. Humanity itself has been weakened by hidden costs of its diaspora and these colonies are now particularly susceptible to these alien attacks. Indeed, many colonies have failed, many worlds have been lost. Earth, suffering its own problems, can not and will not offer support to the victims of this Diversity Crisis.

On only one planet does humanity, within self-imposed limitations, flourish. This planet is Pandora, where the colonists live in isolated, shielded towns and villages, their mission to study and protect the Pandorean ecology.

Now the survivors of the failed worlds have come to Pandora and have demanded to be allowed to land and attempt to start their lives anew on the surface of this idyllic, Earth-like world.

But the Pandorans cannot allow this. Mass immigration would negate their centuries of careful tending of this planet, could result in the same disasters that overtook the other worlds.

As the fleets of refugees accumulate in the skies above Pandora, the Pandorans strive to find some general cure for the Diversity Crisis before it's too late.

Helice Trust knew that life was hopeless in her old home. Now she's brought her teenage daughters, Chena and Teal, to Pandora to start a new life. She knows it's going to be tough, but she's a self-reliant and clever lady and she believes she can handle it. Sadly, that won't be the case. Humanity demands either Pandora or a cure, and the Pandorans require either the cure, or a weapon to defend themselves and their planet against the rest of humanity. If Helice can be of use in their search, they'll use her, and use her up, any way they wish.

Only two Pandorans, Nan Elle and Administrator Tam, are inclined to help the Trust family, but both are suffering serious constraints. Nan Elle is old and without hope for any substantive change in their world. Tam is struggling with his conscience, with his morality against his faith in his family.

Sarah Zettel is a very good writer. She writes classic SF with great ideas and good characters and puts them into exciting situations. I was quite out of breath by the time I finished reading this book. There are several very interesting threads to this novel: the search for a solution to the Diversity Crisis itself, the coming-of-age of Chena and Teal, the AIs that manage the outposts on Pandora, Teal's "tailoring", the artificial Consciences implanted in all Pandorans citizens.

These multiple threads also highlight the problem in the novel. There's just too much in it. It's long but still too complicated for its length. Too many interesting characters are simply discarded and too much potential wasted. Threads that do continue to run through most of the plot are are left hanging, unresolved, at the conclusion. I could happily have read a Pandoran trilogy where Zettel's wonderful ideas are given more room to develop even, if she really wanted, more time for Chena to scrabble through the jungle.

What's it got? tough girls, bad women and big ships, artificial intelligence, and armies of voracious little ants. It's good, but not as good as her excellent "Fool's War".

Loaded on the 31st October 2002.
Cover of Kingdom Of Cages
Cover art by Don Puckey and Micheal Whelan

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