“Good morning,” said Shan Frankland, and held up her warrant card. “We’re from Environmental Hazard Enforcement. Please, step away from the console.”
She loved those words. They cast a spell. They laid bare men’s souls, if you knew how to look. She looked around the administration center and in three seconds she knew the man at the desk was uninvolved, the woman marshaling traffic was surprised by the intrusion, and the man lounging against the drinks machine . . . well, his face was too composed and his eyes were moving just wrong. He was the fissure in the rock. She would cleave it apart. (City of Pearl, 2004, page 5)
It’s the year 2299. Shan Frankland is an Environmental Hazard Enforcement cop for the Federal European Union, and she is very good at it. Civilian government still runs Europe, but just barely — the corporations are getting stronger. Frankland helps track down companies whose GMOs have contaminated food crops and wiped out crops they don’t have a patent on, like spelt and millet. And she can’t get that gorilla out of her memory, the one who kept signing, Please help me.
Karen Traviss has written a science fiction novel that explores environments, the rights of sentient beings, commercial interests, and moral choices, spanning 177 years, on a planet 75 light years from Earth. What makes this a difficult book to put down is the very real cast of characters, and the complex situations they find themselves in. As in real life, there are no easy answers. Frankland and her small crew have come to check on a colony of humans, and also finds four “alien” races already on the planet — one determined to colonize it and use all its resources, and another committed to maintaining the balance.
Really good science fiction has always excelled at examining the problems we are dealing with here and now by putting them in another time on another world. It makes us think as well as entertains us. Traviss’ book is very good science fiction. She gives us two heroes who are determined to do what is right, even while they make mistakes and deal with their own emotions.
Other than the books by Sir Terry Pratchett, I don’t read a lot of fiction. City of Pearl is going on my keep-no-matter-what shelf, joining Ecotopia by Ernest Callenbach and Momo by Michael Ende. It is inspiring — I encourage you to read it.