A stand-alone science fiction book.

Publication year: 1997
Format: ebook, Kindle
Publisher: WMG Publishing

The story starts with Justin Schafer. He’s a xenopsychiatrist sent to Bountiful which is a human colony on very hot planet. The planet has also aliens who are called the Dancers. Now it seems that the Dancers are killing human children. The maturation cycle is quite different for the Dancers; in order for their children to become adults, the child’s heart, hands, and lungs have to be removed. New ones grow back and the child becomes an adult. Six human children had been found mutilated in just such a fashion. Justin had made a grievous error in his previous case and an alien race was exterminated because of him. Now, he’s afraid of making more mistakes but determined to do better.

Bountiful’s authorities want Justin to quickly rubber stamp their decision that the aliens are the killers. Then the Dancers would most likely be exterminated. However, Justin investigates things more thoroughly and finds the disturbing truth: the children were killed by other human children. He has no choice but to inform off-planet authorities who quickly take the kids away. The authorities on the nearby Lina Base are curiously hostile towards the kids and want to sentence them quickly. Justin thinks that the Dancers have influenced the kids and so they should be investigated more thoroughly and possibly the new Alien Influences Act could be invoked. But the authorities want the kids quickly out of sight.

I guess I should admit upfront that the subject matter made me uncomfortable: child abuse. The kids on Bountiful had so difficult lives that they turned to aliens in order to escape it. Most of the abuse seems to be neglect, to the point that the kids didn’t even know basic human biology, but there were indications of physical and mental abuse, as well. It seemed that at least some of the adults on Bountiful knew about it and covered it up. And the way the children were treated before the trial seems abusive to me, also. The story also deals with how kids deal with abuse and how they try to survive it.

The second half of the book focuses on one of the kids when he’s grown up and has to face Bountiful once again. We also get additional POV characters.

The book has lots of point-of-view characters, both adults and children. None of them are good or bad, but humans with different goals and interests. I think this is always Rusch’s strong point: very human characters. However, some of them are seen only briefly, just long enough to see their part of the plot but not long enough to develop a connection with them. The exceptions are Justin and one of the kids.

The story is very focused. We don’t see much about the world outside the characters. The Dancers aren’t the only aliens humans have met and we meet one other alien in the story. Otherwise, we don’t know much about the planets and the organizations on them. I was fascinated with the concept of the Alien Influences Act but we don’t know much about that, either.

The Dancers were also interesting. In addition to having a completely different maturation cycle from humans, they apparently had no concept of past. They simply didn’t remember. This, of course, made them very different from humans and makes it quite difficult to even have a culture. Sadly, they also called their children the Useless ones and they were kept in pens to wait for the time when they could be matured to adults through the cutting ceremony. They also seem to be telepathic and the human children managed to develop their own telepathy, but only between themselves.

Overall, this was an interesting read. At times it felt a little disjointed, like two novellas brought together because a lot of time goes by about halfway through the book and the characters change.