by Nancy Kress
Tor Hardcover: ISBN 0765304678 PubDate Feb 03
Review by Ernest Lilley
368 pages List price $24.95
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Jake Holman isn't just the man who put together humanity's first non-government sponsored colonization of a new world. He's not just a multibillionaire with a dream (and a nightmare). He's not just President of the colony/corporation the go to guy when you need a decision. No, he's much more than that. He's a lawyer.
Now you may think you don't like lawyers very much. That's ok, Jake doesn't especially like himself. Way back when he was getting his start he did something very very bad...and he's been hiding it from everyone all his life. He's afraid to get close to people because he might open up...and that would ruin everything. Jake introduces himself to us at the very beginning as criminal, uncaught who is about to flee to the stars and escape.
Of course, no matter where you go, there you are.
Setting up the colony goes pretty well. The planet seems benign, its DNA compatible/malleable enough to work with, and the weather is a bit cool, but not bad. Even the mixture of Chinese, Cheyenne, Quaker, Scientist/Family, Arab Royalty and odd other seem to be getting along. Even the discovery of furry overgrown hamsters living in thatched huts doesn't rock the boat too much.
But when aliens in a starship drop in, the fragile vessel of containment that is human reason fractures into a million pieces. Jake can only hope that negotiating with aliens is easier than running a colony. Unfortunately, it isn't, and he finds his fragile colony, and possibly all of humanity caught in the crossfire of interstellar war.
Meanwhile back on Earth, things aren't going to well either. We've got instant communication, but that may not be a blessing. I mean, how reassuring would you find messages like: "World Government disbanded. Geneva under siege. Cannot help with alien invasion. Proceed at discretion." Personally, I think it's a pity that SF prognosticators don't hold much hope for Earth's future.
I didn't start out liking Crossfire. The main characters are all pretty annoying, at least until you get to know them. Jake, the lawyer with a clouded past, Gail, the lesbian with a heart of gold...but only in the Midas sense, Shipley, a waddling Quaker Doctor who stops the show every time there's some conflict in order to call a moment of silence, and his estranged punk daughter Naomi, out to generally piss everyone off. How could you love these people? The plants are more lovable. The scariest parts are watching Jake manage meetings with an endless loop of meaningless and interchangeable statements like, "I think we need to consider that last idea more" and "I completely agree with your point, but I'd like you to consider the alternative." Yet his negotiative blathering actually winds up holding people together and moving things along.
Ultimately through Nancy Kress wears you down and you wind up getting attached to these folks. They're humans, and they're doing their best. We're not indomitable, or especially noble or anything, but we're still pretty adaptable and trying to do the right thing. If we can figure out what it is.
Crossfire ends with the feel of a first volume in a trilogy, though things are wrapped well enough up if it doesn't go on. The strongest points of the story aren't its SF as much as the revolving debate between pacifist Shipley and his activist daughter tempered by the pragmatism of Jake Holman's legal notions.