A stand-alone SF book.

Publication year: 2006
Format: print
Page count: 392 plus an excerpt of Undertow
Publisher: Bantam

Michelangelo Osiris Leary Kusagi-Jones is spy, a bodyguard, and an assassin. He’s also something which his people call a Liar; extremely good at lying to everyone, especially to people close to him. About forty years ago, he met the love of his life and they were spies together on missions. Unfortunately, part of one of Michelangelo’s mission, 17 years ago, was to undermine his love’s mission and that’s exactly what he did. In the end, they were parted and sent to different worlds. But now, he has just been reunited with his love for one more mission. Once again, Michelangelo is a double agent with orders to betray his love. He isn’t happy.

Vincent Katherinessen is a diplomat and a spy. He’s also a double agent to his mother. He’s very good at his job and dedicated to it. He also loves Michelangelo still after 17 years spent apart.

Both have grown up in Coalition, a governing body which rose when the Old Earth’s natural resouces had been almost depleted and in order for humanity and the planet to survive, ruthless measures were taken. And they are still in effect. The ruling body of the Coalition seems to be a group of AIs called the Governors which were programmed by extreme environmentalists. The AIs literally decide who lives and who dies when human population grows too large. In the past, they killed off most of the human population in order to save the environment. Some humans also escaped to other planets and now the Coalition wants to govern all of those planets, too. However, the day to day governing is done by a human group called the Cabinet. Also, humans are forbidden to use any animals either as food, a source for food stuff (such as milk), or as slaves, generally called pets.

The Coalition is aggressively heterosexual to the point that being non-hetero is criminal and treated either with “therapy” or forced retirement. While women are able to vote or nominally become a candidate for the Cabinet, in reality they rarely have actual political power. Indeed, there are apparently no female diplomats. The Cabinet has only one woman in it and she comes from a planet where the women were rulers before the Coalition conquered it.

Vincent and Michelangelo are sent to New Amazonia. It’s a planet settled by disgrunteled women who made a society which benefitted them (of course). In New Amazonia, hetero males’ position in society is very limited: they have to have permission to leave the house they belong to. They also have to combat each other to death in the Trials. They’ve sent to train in combat when they’re 10 years old. But homosexual males, called gentle, can learn other things and even become scientists. This is done to protect women from males, rather than assuming that the would-be victims should protect themselves (as is pointed out on page 107).

The New Amazonias specifically requested “gentle” males or women as diplomats and that’s why Michelangelo and Vincent have been reunited and sent. However, they enter a complex web of treachery and politics where people are rarely what they seem at first glance.

The third point-of-view character is Lesa Pretoria, the head of security at the city. She had two surviving children. One of them is a young boy who will soon turn ten and be sent to battle. Lesa doesn’t want him to die in battle but instead to learn and have a better life that he could have on New Amazonia. However, that would mean trusting the male diplomats with the boy. And her family wants nothing to do with Coalition so that’s also her official policy.

Neither faction knows that an alien intelligence has taken an interest with New Amazonia. So far, humanity hasn’t encountered any aliens. New Amazonia is built on an old alien city, though, so the humans know that intelligent aliens have existed in the past.

The two cultures are, deliberately, intensely different from each other, from eating habits to personal relationships. I don’t think they’re meant to realistic and neither is ideal for the any of the characters. However, that’s what cultures tend to be like: ideal for a few, most can get by, and horrible for some. Little details stand out to me and make the cultures real. For example, when Vincent and Michelangelo come to New Amazonia, they’re horrified to see pets and people eating meat. At first they’re unable to eat much because butter or some other animal produce has been used in pretty much everything and they’re also very repulsed by the smell of cooked meat. Lisa carries her weapon, which is called her honor, everywhere and feels helpless without it. And Vincent and Michelangelo are called with the honorific “Miss” because “Mister” isn’t an honorific.

The culture clash is very interesting to me and I enjoyed the book. However, this isn’t a quick and light read.