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This Alien Shore

I just finished This Alien Shore; written by C.S. Friedman in 1998, it is her most recent full-length novel that isn't part of a series.

The book is set in an imaginative future in which humans have colonized the distant planets, but maybe not in the way you'd think. In this future history, the colonists' travel technology also turned out to cause disastrous and often fatal genetic mutations, leaving most dead and the few left with a phenotypic diversity every bit as alien as if they had never been human at all.

Now marooned on their distant worlds for centuries, one race of mutated colonists eventually uses their mutant gifts to find a new way (wormholes basically) to travel to the other colonized planets, build giant fabulous space stations, and trade across the galaxy. Eventually they return to Earth, now a powerful spacefaring race barely recognizable as human. The resulting galactic culture is an uneasy, fragmented powder keg of corporate power struggle, xenophobia, and historic resentment.

Weird, huh?

Out into this dangerous galaxy is flung our teen-aged hero, on the run from an evil corporation that wants her back for their diabolical experiments. She is a surprisingly interesting and readable character, but I couldn't say more without spoilers.

The biggest flaw in the book for me was the uneducated portrayal of computer tech. Although the book's many virtual reality scenes and "computer hacking" adventures were well paced and well written, unfortunately they were often technically ridiculous. And since the central plot involves a computer virus, skipping over the flawed notions of how networks, security, and encryption work would have left me with little to read.

Despite this, this book has much to recommend it. Friedman does a great job of intriguing the reader, and she kept me turning the pages even when I might otherwise have flung my book out a window during a particularly stupid "hackin' the net" chapter. Who created the computer virus? What were the Shido corporation's experiments? Why do they want a teenage girl so badly? What is wrong with her? What will happen to her? How do the wormholes work and what is inside them?

Even though I figured out several of the Big Mysteries about 50 pages before I think I was supposed to, there were enough other interesting bits to keep me reading until I was rewarded by the various reveals at the end.

Overall I would recommend this book unreservedly if you are a sci-fi fan but not a computer professional. It is chocked full of fast-paced action, imaginative characters, and page-turning tension. A good read.

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