Visions of Paradise

Sunday, August 01, 2010

In the Company of Others

Julie Czerneda’s In the Company of Others is reminiscent of the Union/Alliance novels of C.J. Cherryh with the emphasis on politics replaced by a biological mystery. Earth’s emigration to other planets was stopped abruptly by an alien entity called “the Quill,” sending all the colonists fleeing to various space stations since Earth refused their return because of fear of contamination by the Quill. All the stations are vastly overcrowded, with their inhabitants forced to live on an alternate-day cycle, sharing work, beds, etc. Food is imported from Earth and tensions are regularly quite high.

The novel’s plot is complicated, but fast-paced, involving an attempt by Earth scientist Gail Smith to eliminate the threat of the Quill. But her arrival on an Earth ship at one station has disrupted the delicate balance between various aspects of the station’s inhabitants, so the novel deals equally with her struggle against the Quill and the intricate relationship between groups of people on the station, including its longtime residents, the offspring of the stranded immigrants, and the Earthers. The main characters are Smith and two of the stationers Pardell and Malley, all of whom are fairly well-developed, having both positive aspects the reader can related to, and weaknesses which affect their behavior and the development of the plot.

Important minor characters include Commander Grant (the leader of the security force on Smith’s ship who balances his duties with his loyalty to the scientist), Tobo (the ship’s captain), and Rosalind (an old-timer on the station). These characters also have balanced personalities, especially Grant who plays a very important role in the events. This was a very satisfying novel which compares favorably to Cherryh’s novels. I believe this is Czerneda’s only standalone novel, but it has encouraged me to try one of her trilogies as well.

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