Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Finder - Suzanne Palmer

Finder is a snappy, smart space adventure from Suzanne Palmer. It’s a lot of fun, and has some clever big ideas lurking beneath some tremendously human characters and a breakneck plot.

The story is centred on the marvellously alliterative Fergus Ferguson. Fergus calls himself a finder. He retrieves things for people. That leans less toward dropped earrings, and more toward slightly larger things – in this case, a spacecraft. To retrieve these lost objects, Fergus employs a variety of soft skills, including fast talking, impersonation, building improvised tools and the occasional well-placed theft. Fergus is also thoughtful, introspective, and altohihg unwilling to dig too far into his own psyche, gives us some truly vivid imagery to allow for a partial analysis of his personality.
The larger point here is, Fergus is fun to read. He can talk his way out fo a lot of things, and seeing the excuses and rationales he runs up to get out of various scrapes is a delight. At the same time, when events call for the physical, he’s no slouch (if not a ninja). There’s enough high impact conflict here to sate anyone – but there’s also a lot of running away, or arranging events so as to  fight again another day. This is a smart, thoughtful protagonist, unwilling to risk their hide unnecessarily. That Fergus is also always ready with some banter is a plus, and helps carry the story along. But Fergus has enough depth to make him more than an entertaining cipher. There’s a sense of history, of past hidden beneath a shroud of memory and long con’s gone wrong. The meat is there if you want to infer and dig into it, and if not – he’s an interesting person with a smart mouth and a degree of competence that makes the characterisation an absolute joy.

Fergus operates in a weird, complicated, fascinating world. It’s one which knows about non-human species, where some are better known as your neighbours, but others are a potentially lethal enigma. The system he’s working in is a string of habitats, linked together by a desire for atmosphere and commerce, at the edge of any space where anyone cares about law enforcement. It’s a pot on the boil, torn between several factions, none of whom particularly want to share power with the others. But they’re also part of a broader universe, a claustrophobic environment connected by hump oints to a larger, sprawling universe. And to Palmer’s credit, this universe feels alive. If the habitats are often cramped, claustrophobic and filled with dangerous flora and fauna, they’re also thriving, with a dynamic and invested population base. The politics, the environs, the details of life in this world feel believable. The wider scale also works for internal consistency. There’s grime and grudges and attitude, and they all feel real. This is a real, living, breathing world – it makes internal sense, and it will keep your attention even as Fergus leaps across it wreaking havoc.

Speaking of which – the plot is rather fun. It ramps up quickly, and although you’re grounded, there’s a sense of the unknown and unfamiliar throughout. We’re grounding ourselves alongside Fergus, and as he looks into alien ships, into political malfeasance, and as he works to talk his way into stealing a star cruiser, we empathise, we understand his pain, every step of the way. The conflicts though have depth and raw, hard edges, and a history which helps them to feel real The stakes are high, for sure, and the pacing never lets up – throwing you between witty repartee, gunfire and the potential end of the world between paragraphs.

This is a tightly written, compelling space opera. It has charm and grace, and will make you want to finish it very quickly, to see what happens next. It is, above all, a fun piece of sci-fi which will reward your attention – and so I recommend it.

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