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Undertow (Bantam Science Fiction)

Undertow (Bantam Science Fiction) - Elizabeth Bear While this book took a little while to get into, I definitely appreciated the build up once the plot began to unfold. Cyberpunk meets alien suppression and exploitation meets assassin meets turning on a chance. Indeed, this tale brought together several tropes and spat out something unique and highly memorable. Told mostly from Andre’s point of view, and an interesting view it is, we see his impersonal approach to his job, assassinating folks. He also has a somewhat impersonal approach to his love life with Cricket. But then things change, and get weird, and very cool. The Charter Trade Company wants folks dead, a valuable mineral mined and off planet before anyone notices, and doesn’t care who gets injured along the way. That includes a good friend of Cricket’s and the Jean’s lover.

The Rannids are introduced bit by bit giving the reader time to get to know them. They think differently, and hence, their actions don’t always make sense to their human overlords. They have no visible sign of advanced civilization, which has left Charter Trade Company legally able to exploit them and remove the planet’s resources. But they are far more complex, able to communicate world wide through vibrations in the water, treasuring stories. Humans have many stories in many forms, and so many Rannids learn to read human lips (lacking the natural auditory equipment to hear human speech) in order to enjoy these stories.

Jean, in introducing Andre to these planet natives, may not only save Andre’s retched existence but also the planet. Jean is a Conjurer, a man who can and does affect chance outcomes. Andre has this latent ability in himself but lacks the training, and the mindset. I found Andre’s storyline the most fascinating because he starts off the least human (psychologically) and grows so much as a character by the end of the book. Listening to the culture of the Rannids unfold bit and bit as Andre would learn of them piece by piece kept me coming back for just one more chapter before bed.