title: This Alien Shore
author: C.S. Friedman
finished: March 16, 2010
my rating: 4.5 of 5 stars
why?: This book was chosen as the March sci-fi group read for Beyond Reality on Goodreads.
Humankind has long since overpopulated Earth and spread out into the stars. But their technology to travel beyond light speed turns out to have caused mutations in the genes of all who traveled using that technology, thus splintering the human race into multiple Variants. Now a galaxy-wide civilization depends upon the ability of one particular Variant to safely travel through the ainniq, a monster-filled sort of subspace that connects the various inhabited worlds and stations. But the Terrans, the original, unmutated humans, chafe under the Guild’s many restrictions, without which the Guild refuses to provide passage through the ainniq, and racial tension between Terrans and the many different types of Variants threatens peach among all. This is the story of a mysterious virus that threatens the secrets of the Guild, and the very lives of the outpilots who travel the ainniq, as well as the story of a young Terran woman who has been altered and experimented upon in an attempt to wrest control of travel through the ainniq from the Guild.
I enjoyed this book thoroughly. The setting, full of aliens who, when it comes down to it, are not really alien at all, was fascinating, though it was . The technology was intriguing, even if bioware-type brain-computer interfaces are hardly a unique idea. I found the use of the technology, particularly the more day-to-day examples of it, was well handled. Not overly complex, but enough to make it feel like a real part of the setting. And the mystery-parts of the story, both the mystery of the Lucifer virus and the mystery of Jamisia – what had been done to her and why everyone was chasing her – more than enough to keep me intrigued and invested.
Actually, one of the parts that I really loved was the hacking and computer work. I found the way the computer experts worked through systems, code, and the outernet to be interesting, and not in the "I love everything to do with computers, so anything like that is interesting!" sort of way. While I understand that particular feeling, I don’t always want the super accurate, super technical sort of computer-related stuff in every story. And honestly, I think making it more technical would not have been right for this story.
But aside from the actual technical parts of the hacking, I loved the general feeling behind Phoenix, and his fellow hackers. Their entire philosophy of tampering with technology, living on the edge, sometimes even on the outside, of society, and taking pride in what they do is one that strikes a chord deep inside me. (Even though I’m not a hacker… and lack the skills to actually do anything like that. ^_^; ) But even more than that, it was something that Phoenix reflected on during our first encouters with him, in response to the virus taking lives. When you hack, you don’t hurt people, and you definitely don’t kill. Money, status, that kind of stuff… They’re all fair game. But you don’t screw with people’s survival. I suppose when the technology is built into people’s brains, you can’t help but develop that sort of "rule." Even so, I really liked that…
I particularly enjoyed the looks at various ways of thinking. Especially the crazy/non-standard ones. From Jamisia… and her multiple personalities, some of whom had their own abnormalities, to the Guerans and their varied "issues." The Gueran idea that each person is a alien to everyone else, made so much truer by the mental changes their Variant brought them, is one that I feel can apply to everyone, not just a semi-alien people in a science fiction book. And the Gueran philosophy of embracing mental differences and making use of their advantages, rather than looking on them as "diseases" that should be cured, is one that I find intriguing. Particularly seeing it in Kio Masada, with his iru nature, which is quite clearly autism, that makes social interactions that much more difficult for him, but allows him to be absolutely brilliant as a programmer.
One slightly disappointing part of the story is something I realized now that I’m thinking back on it. The vast majority of the story is told from the point of view of Terrans and Guerans. Basically, the most "human" players in the book. While the Guerans are technically a Variant, their differences actually existed among humans in the past. The other Variants aren’t like that, and we spend almost no time with them. Yeah, there are a few bits surrounding the Variants on the Exeter, particularly some time spent in Sumi the Medusan’s head, but it’s almost nothing compared to the rest of the book. As much as I liked the story, it’s a bit disappointing to have a galaxy filled with "aliens" and only really spend time with the ones who look fully human. But I guess since the two main lines of the story are surrounding Jamisia, a Terran, and the Lucifer virus, which was aimed at the Guild, it’s understandable.