Thursday, October 15, 2009

At Empire's Edge - William C. Dietz


At Empire’s Edge
William C. Dietz
Ace

Science Fiction

Readers who have wanted to give this author a try, but were intimidated by his backlist (WHEN DUTY CALLS) will be happy to know that this novel is a stand-alone. While there are scenes that recall his Legion Of The Damned military SF books, this one is really a mystery/ political thriller set in a far future with a cast of characters from several different planets.

Jak Cato is a member of the Xeno Corps, a group of bio-engineered police. Their current mission is to transport a particularly dangerous criminal. Verafti is a Sagathi, a deadly race that have the ability to shape-shift into nearly anything or anyone close to his or her own size. The ability developed as a survival strategy on their home planet, but it wasn’t long before their efficacy as assassins was noticed and employed.

During their flight, another alien race, the Vord, attacks. The ship’s drives are disabled, and need repair. The only planet with the right facilities is Dantha. When the group arrives, however, they find the shipyard completely inadequate. This is because the ruler of the planet, Nalomy, has been systematically skimming money from every sector and lining her own pockets. Since the planet is at the rim of the Empire, she’s been getting away with this for some time. Now, though, a Legate sent by the Emperor is scheduled to arrive and assess the situation.

Nalomy didn’t get to where she is by letting a golden opportunity escape her. She concocts a plan to take the Sagathi from the Xeno guards and use him as her own assassin. To do so, however, requires wiping out every member of the Xeno Corps guarding the prisoner. Cato escapes the bloodbath, largely because he was off getting drunk while he should have been purchasing supplies. When he arrives to find his unit slaughtered, he vows to do right by them, and bring their killer or killers to account. As he learns more, his investigation widens until he’s caught up in the politics of this unfamiliar world.

This is really an excellent novel for first-time readers of Mr. Dietz. There’s no prior knowledge required, and the book, while undeniably science fiction is truly character-driven. I found it very interesting that the action and motivations of most of the characters could be transplanted to nearly any culture at virtually any time. Some motives are timeless; thirst for power is one of those. The story moves at a nice clip and contains plenty of future tech and strange creatures. This novel should satisfy a wide range of readers.

Rating: 8
October 2009
ISBN# 978-0-441-01759-1 (hardcover)

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