Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Merker's Outpost by I. Christie

Publisher:           Blue Feather Books

Intrigue, revenge, mysticism, martial arts and sexual attraction, all in a galaxy far, far away. Pick your favorite genre and you'll probably find some of it in Merker's Outpost. At times it has the Machaivellian twists of a Renaissance novel and traces of the Russian form as characters shift names to suit the situation. It's a story that holds your attention and requires your attention to be fully enjoyed.

Merker's Outpost is a planet protected by Guardian and several factions would like to control it. Slave traders have set up a base and the smuggling of weapons and other illegal goods is going on. Lieutenant Harriet Montran believes she is on a routine visit to the planet until she is betrayed by the soldiers who accompany her there and she is rescued by Guardian, a sophisticated computer system that contains the brain of a dead scientist. Harriet is recruited by Guardian to help clear the planet of the undesirable elements.  In the process she discovers that her reason for being there is also tied to the plotting of a figure from her past who doesn't want her dead, yet, but turned into a metraperson, someone whose total ability to exert self determination is erased by a chip that is implanted in the brain creating a mindless servant.

Harriet has help with her efforts from several sources, including Major Zohra, an undercover secret operative of Naboth's Vine, an organization that is trying to save the galaxy from the scheming of more than one evil force. Harriet and Zohra have a bond developed when they were cadets together, but they haven't seen each other in many years and can't be sure how strong that bond still is. Together they must keep the planet and each other safe until rescue forces can arrive. They also need to discover what the secret is that Guardian is protecting, a secret that is so powerful that it could ignite galactic war and cost them their lives.

Merker's Outpost easily fits into more than one genre. It's an adventure story and a romance wrapped in a mystery. It takes place in a galaxy where bots that seem almost human do most of the mundane work and people change their appearance and genetics almost as easily as they change their clothes. It's a longer book that allows the two main characters time to develop their personalities and explore their past actions in a way that explains and enriches the story. The story tests the reader's attention. Characters are known by more than one name, which can be a little confusing at first, and the altered science and references to groups need focus to keep them straight, but this is a small matter. 

One weakness in the book is that, in a story that is slowly and meticulously spelled out for the most part, two critical points are somewhat rushed. Lord Chaney is painted as a major character in the opening pages and then is rather off-handedly dealt with. Alan Fermin is the resident evil and the book builds towards a confrontation with him, which is barely addressed. 

Merker's Outpost is a good read. It has a little of something for everyone and the strengths far outweigh the weaknesses. If you're taking a book to the beach for a week, this is the only one you'll need.

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