Lee & Miller; Agent of Change (1988)

Predictions about how future technology might look when one is bound by the limitations of current technology or the imagination of engineers is one of the things that makes reading science fiction fun.  Agent of Change was written in 1988 and I noticed a few technological doodahs that we have surpassed. Val Con’s camouflage method is not one of those areas.

The man who was not Terrence O’Grady had come quietly.

And that, Sam insisted, was clear proof. Terry had never done anything quietly in his life if there was a way to get a fight out of it.

Pete, walking at Sam’s left behind the prisoner, wasn’t so sure. To all appearances, the man they had taken was Terrence O’Grady. He had the curly, sandy hair, the pug nose, and the archaic blackframed glasses over pale blue eyes, and he walked with a limp of the left leg, which the dossier said was a souvenir of an accident way back when he’d been mining in the Belt of Terado.

Val Con yos’Phelium is a deep-undercover agent sent to accomplish “impossible” assassinations. Before becoming a spy, he had been first-in scout, i.e. front-line explorer. When he became a spy, an enhancer was imbedded into his brain. All spies were inserted with similar enhancers. In Agent of Change he discovers most of its down-sides and gets to show off its benefits.

The alley twisted once more and widened into bright spaciousness, showing him a loading dock and five well-armed persons protected behind shipping containers and handtrucks. Before the dock a red-haired woman held a gun to the throat to a Terran, using his body as a shield between herself and the five others.

“Please guys,” the hostage yelled hoarsely. “I’ll give you my share-I swear it! Just do like she -”

One of those behind the containers shifted; the hostage stiffened with a throttled gasp, and the woman dropped him, diving for the scant cover of a wooden crate. Pellets splintered it, and she rolled away, the fleeing hostage forgotten, as one of the five rose for a clear shot.

Miri Robertson had been a sergeant with a mercenary group. After leaving the group, she hired on with Sire Baldwin as a body guard on a three-month contract. Sire Baldwin had not been upfront about what Miri might need to protect him from, i.e. he was on the run from the interplanetary mob called Juntavas. Unknowingly (obviously), Miri and the rest of his staff were caught in Baldwin’s double cross. As a result Miri was on the run from vengeful Juventas with a bounty on her head. The above fight is between Miri and one of the many groups out to cash in that bounty. It is this fight that brings Val Con and Miri together and leaves them sticking together until they manage to outfox those who have it in for either of them.

Rapt, Edger came into the lobby, kin trailing after. Here, he noted, the sound of the sirens was not so shrill; the rich counter-harmony of the singers faded to a primal growl over which the solitary, singlenoted song of the building soared triumphant, nearly incandescant.

And there were other textures herein encountered, doubtless meant as a frame to the piece: the softness of the carpeting beneath his feet; the clearness of the colors; the harshness of the light reflected from the framed glass surfaces. Edger stepped deeper into the experience, opening his comprehension to the wholeness of this piece of art.

Patiently, his Clan members waited.

Edger is a member of the T’Carais, a people who live centuries, even millenia. He is not yet considered adult in spite of being 900 human years old. As they grow, the T’Carais shed their old shells and grow new ones. Edger is on his Twelfth Shell. The name in his visas reads: Twelfth Shell Fifth Hatched Knife clan of Middle River’s Spring Spawn of Farmer Greentrees of the Spear-makers Den, The Edger. T’Carais names show others who they belong to, their positions, their age and important phases during their lives and, therefore, might take hours to say. Due to his interests Edger acts as ambassador/market researcher and is multi-lingual. T’Carais are social animals, much like humans, and there are several other T’Carais travelling with Edger in a Clutch spaceship. Edger is in Agent of Change because Val Con was once adopted by him as clan-brother, and he helps Val Con and Miri because that is what brothers do.

Both Miri and Val Con are essential to the story. Neither plays second fiddle to the other, and neither is a stranger to violence.  Given their roles in life, that is only to be expected. I really enjoyed how gender was played out in the story. Even today’s authors (either gender) tend to fall into stereotypical traps. Sharon Lee and Steve Miller have not and I wish more authors would follow their example. In addition, the author pair, try to not make fun of cultural cultural differences, something that might be tempting with a species such as the T’Carais. However, one does not mess with the T’Carais. They have me smiling with, rather than at, differences between Terran, Liad and T’Carais. All three are baffled at times by what the others do, but all of them seem genuinely interested in learning from each other. Val Con and Miri carry mental baggage from their pasts.  Sometimes that gets in the way of them, but not of the plot.

Agent of Change exceeded my expectations. I understand why the Liaden universe has become popular.


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