Nancy Kress,
(Tor, 2003)

Jake Holman, lawyer turned entrepreneur, has successfully convinced some 6,000 souls to provide the funds required and embark into space on a private colonization project. All of the people who have signed on with Jake have a reason to leave the crowded, troubled Earth for the uninhabited planet Greentrees, but none have as dark and secret a reason as Jake. Not even his business partner Gail Cutler suspects the truth behind Jake's money and initiative.

The new colonists include a deposed Arab prince and his retinue, Gail's extended family of ecologists and scientists, a religious group called New Quakers who seek the simplicity of their historical roots, a tribe of Cheyenne who want to reclaim their traditional culture, and more. There is a level of irritability among those left awake for the voyage, particularly between the abrasive geneticist Ingrid Johnson and Gail. Both Gail and Jake feel irritation toward the New Quaker representative, Dr. William Shipley. Much of their annoyance stems from Shipley's religious beliefs, little guessing how those same beliefs and practices will prove to be useful.

Colonization is underway when the colonists make an unsettling discovery: they are not alone on the planet. Furthermore, they are in the crossfire of an interplanetary war, and they have no choice in the matter.

The plot is not simply one of survival; the characters face any number of moral and ethical decisions, none of which is simple. Central to the action is Shipley and his Quakerism. His need to sit in silent worship and put the principles of his faith into action is the key to communication with one of the "alien" races. Initially, Kress presents this crucial aspect from the perspective of Gail and Jake, both of whom react negatively toward Shipley. This creates an interesting dissonance, since the reader tends to adopt the main protagonists' viewpoints, yet on reflection, their responses to Shipley's faith appear increasingly unreasonable. At the same time, this perspective underlines the complexity of the characters, as they evolve through their experiences. Furthermore, the reader eventually must make up her/his own mind about the various characters rather than simply taking them at face value.

Thoughtful, original and fast-paced, Crossfire is an engrossing look at the potential of the future as well as a reminder that the more things change, the more they tend to stay the same.

- Rambles
written by Donna Scanlon
published 14 February 2004

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