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This Alien Shore

by C. S. Friedman

Published by DAW Books

ISBN 10: 0-88677-799-2

Reviewed by Jonette Butler
Review posted 4/10/10

Man has encountered aliens – and they are him. The first age of space exploration proved catastrophic when it was discovered that the Hausman superluminal drive caused irreparable genetic damage to travelers. Earth panicked and ceased all interplanetary travel and hundreds of colonies were abandoned and left to their own devices. The genetic damage caused mutations, and many of the abandoned colonies evolved survive in their new environments with physical and/or mental adaptations, resulting in a wide variety of human “Variants.”

Now the second age of colonization is in full swing, thanks to the discovery of the Ainniq (interdimensional rifts) by one of the earliest of the abandoned colonies, Guera. The Guerans look human, but may be the most alien of all the Variants, as their mutations are in their intellects and psychological makeup. The Guerans’ mission is to bring all of the lost colonies back into the “human fold,” so they eventually contact Earth. Only certain Guerans, the Outpilots, can navigate through the Ainniq. Many Earthborn humans and their descendants are horrified by Variants and resentful of being at the mercy of Guera’s Outspace Guild if they want to leave home.

This age has brought a significant shift in the way colonization is approached. Colonies are now vast habitats constructed in space, near the Ainniq access points, rather than on planetary surfaces. “Dirtsiders” like Guerans and Earthborns are often viewed with consternation by the habitat residents, who don’t understand why anyone would choose to live in such an uncontrollable environment as a planet’s. All Outernet beings are fitted with brain implants at birth that boost the brain’s processing capacity and of course there is a black market of ongoing modifications that can be obtained by those willing to risk repeated brain surgeries.

The main character, Jamisia Shido, is a pawn in the complex machinations of corporate, cultural and political intrigue, who is not even sure what she is. She is Earthborn, yes, but at a very young age was severely mentally traumatized. Shido corporation rescued (this may be debatable) her and proceeded to use her traumatized state to try to develop a new kind of Earthborn mind. Their experimentation on Jamisia is cruel and when another corporation tries to kidnap her, her tutor helps her to escape. There is politics and social stratification. Several varieties of Isolationist culture have developed: the Hausman League believes that bigoted Earth should be cut out of this new era of growth and left to stew in her own juices; the New Terran Front has established a colony and claims that those of Earthborn genetic makeup are superior to all others; the New Aryan nation’s colony has gone even further, citing a narrow Earthborn genetic profile as superior to all other humans. There are the megacorporations of Earth vying against one another for wealth and power and there is plenty of jockeying for position and privilege within the Gueran power structure.

Of course, all that is background and backstory woven throughout the almost 600 pages of this work of Friedman’s. Through it all we have a front row seat to Jamisia’s quest to discover who and what she is and why, tame her inner demons (who all have their own names and agendas…), and find what she has never had – someone she can trust and a place she can be safe.

Friedman built a fascinating culture in the Gueran Guildmaster and Outernet societies and her approach to telling the story is engaging. While the omniscient third person point of view is used, each chapter changes focus to a different character, sometimes returning focus to that character in a later chapter, sometimes not. It keeps the reader fully engaged. This is not light reading, it is not junk food for the mind. You have to pay attention to keep up with the story – there’s a lot going on and you can miss things if your mind wanders. I like that! It’s fascinating – bits of information remembered from early chapters help the reader to understand the nuances of the story thread and character’s personalities and personal agendas later in the book.

It was terrific fun rereading this work after more than 10 years. What a fine writer Friedman is! I think I will start working my way through my whole C. S. Friedman collection again…

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