Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Book Review: Crossover by Joel Shepherd

Crossover is the debut novel of Joel Shepherd and the first book in the Cassandra Kresnov trilogy.

Cassandra Kresnov is a GI, an artificial person created by the advanced science of the League, one of the two great powers of human space, and used as a soldier in the League's long struggle with its rival the Federation. Like her fellows, Kresnov was built to be far stronger, tougher, and faster than any human being. But Kresnov is an experiment who was also given something else- the creativity , initiative, and intelligence of a human being. It made her one of the League's most effective soldiers, but in time it  also lead her to begin questioning her masters and her purpose until she fled the military and the League.

She flees to the Federation under an assumed name and human identity, hoping to go unnoticed and live a normal life. Taking up residence on Callay, a prosperous Federation world far from the League, she seems to be achieving her goal when she is abducted and brutally dissected by agents of the Federation Intelligence Agency operating covertly on Calais. She is rescued and reassembled by Callay's internal security force, the CSA, but her secret has been exposed in a society where the idea of artificial life is abhorred and her legal status as a person is unclear.

Held prisoner by the Callayan government while her future is argued over, her fate seems to be completely out of her hands- until she finds herself caught in the midst of a plot against Callay by a strange alliance of covert league operatives, including a force of GIs, and the Federation's own intelligence service, each acting for reasons of their own. Desperate, Callay's unprepared government turns to Kresnov for her combat skills and knowledge of the League and GIs. Kresnov, wanting to protect the closest thing to a home she's ever had, agrees.

I really enjoyed Crossover. The plot kept my interest throughout, and both Kresnov's personal conflicts and the larger story of political intrigue they are a part of were consistently engaging and worked together well. The action sequences are tense and effective, and do a nice job of demonstrating just how terrifyingly deadly Kresnov can be without making her seem omnipotent.

Kresnov is a likable and interesting protagonist, and I enjoyed the fact that Shepherd made her introspective about her own nature and condition without resorting to cliché “I wish I was a real human” angst. The characterizations of the CSA agents are also well-done, and are quite effective in portraying people who are brave, competent, and professional but have suddenly found themselves in over their heads.

Callay and its principal city, Tanusha, is a well-realized setting, and Sheppard makes it an attractive and appealing society without making it feel outright utopian or unbelievable. I like his handling of it as the crisis in the book escalates and the Callayans desperately respond, conveying the Callayans' shock and panic as they suddenly find the peace and security they have long taken for granted threatened without portraying them as utterly helpless or ineffectual. The larger universe beyond is described in less detail, but the conflict between the Federation and the League and the inner workings of the Federation among its own members is interesting.

The League was especially interesting as one of the antagonists, since its ideology and behavior- forward-thinking, scientific, devoted to progress, rationalist, unrestrained by the dead hand of the past- are in many respects a non-idealized form of the sort of thing frequently associated with the good guys in science fiction stories. (E.g. Asimov's Foundation, Wells' The Shape of Things to Come, etc.). This was an enjoyable change from the more typical sorts of human antagonists commonly found in the genre.

I would definitely recommended Crossover for science fiction fans, especially fans of far-future SF/space opera with a focus on action. I look forward to catching up with the rest of the trilogy.

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