Julie E. Czerneda,
In the Company of Others
(DAW, 2001)

Julie E. Czerneda continues to produce riveting science fiction populated with appealing and convincing characters.

Everyone was excited at the prospect of newly terraformed planets, and immigrants from a crowded Earth flocked to the space stations from which they would depart for the new worlds. Something, however, went terribly wrong.

The scientists who worked on the project introduced a life form called Quill, a seemingly harmless filament with a soothing effect. But the Quill mutated and turned deadly. The infested planets were closed off, and Earth refused to allow ships from deep space to return, for fear of contamination. The immigrants were forced to take up residence in the space stations which were never intended to support such huge populations for such an extended time.

Thromberg Station is not only stuffed to the gills with stationers and immigrants, it supports a community literally clinging to the outside of the station. These are the Outsiders who live in ships tethered to the shell of the station, most of whom were turned away from Earth years before.

Aaron Pardell is an Outsider set even farther apart because he cannot endure human touch. Even the mildest touch can cause tremendous pain and a seizure, and the person who touches him experiences anything from a bad shock to death. Aaron was found as an infant abandoned in his parents' spacecraft, and all he has from his parents is the ship and his last name.

Enter Dr. Gail Smith on a research vessel from Earth. Her lifelong work has been to discover a way to destroy the Quill, and now she needs Aaron, who may been the only human to survive a Quill attack. Before long, Aaron and his best friend, stationer Hugh Malley, form an uneasy alliance with Smith and Commander Daniel Grant of the Sol System First Defense Unit. Destination: Aaron Pardell's heritage.

Czerneda keeps the action crisp and sharp, building suspense and tension through rapidly shifting points of view. She holds the various story threads together with a sure hand. The characterizations are thoughtfully developed and well-rounded; the reader is keenly aware of Aaron's emotions and frustrations as well as his growth into understanding.

Czerneda is liberal with well-placed humor which often serves to underscore the characterizations, such as Malley's blustering bluntness or one of the research scientists' childlike delight in creating mischief at Smith's behest. These are people in whom you believe and about whom you care.

Comparable to Lois McMaster Bujold's Barrayar series, Czerneda's In the Company of Others puts this talented author in stellar company as well.

[ by Donna Scanlon ]

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