Trading in Danger by Elizabeth Moon
Del Rey / Random House HCVR: ISBN 0345447603 PubDate: 10/01/03
Review by Laurie J. Marks
294 pgs. List price $ 24.95
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Elizabeth Moon combines two first in Trading in Danger, stepping from starship troopers to starship traders, while also starting out a character on the first in what we can hope is a long series of adventures. It's a pity that you can only do things for the first time once, but all the more reason not to miss this debut. - ed.
Like Kelly Eskridge's Solitaire, Elizabeth Moon's Trading in Danger features a talented young woman associated with a large corporation who, on the verge of launching her professional career, is wrongfully blamed for a disaster and is forced to resign. Unlike Eskridge's protagonist, however, Moon's Kylara resigns from a military academy, and returns to the stifling security of her privileged family of interstellar traders.
Both family and academy are composed of characters who do not comprehend Kylara, are disappointed in her failure yet also believe in her potential, load her down with expectations, and exercise the power of the institution to control her behavior. Kylara both struggles against and submits to this social control. Like any person who is neither a hermit nor a billionaire, she has no choice but to belong to one or another inevitably inadequate social conglomerate. If she is to pursue her own desires and have her own agenda, she must find a way to do so within an institutional structure.
I have read a number of science fiction novels in which the protagonist is bound by ties that simultaneously empower and limit her. Unlike most of these, what emerges in Moon's novel is not the necessity for (or refusal of) compromise, but the necessity for an individual to both take from and give to her family, country, society, or culture. This attitude makes Trading in Danger very different from the solitary hero stories that are typical of "classic" (and a lot of contemporary) SF. Moon tends to be conscious of the benefits of being allied to a large group, as well as the costs. In many of her novels, as in this one, protagonists are not leaders, saviors, or mavericks; instead they are embedded in a social unit, and when matters go awry, they set forth on their own with reluctance, and never cease to be aware of the effects of their actions on the people they care about.
As the captain of a junk heap of a ship, this atypical hero is plagued by the practical and the mundane: the unbalanced cash flow, the lack of spare parts, and the difficulty of making long-distance (inter-stellar) phone calls. These minor problems pile up and, just when Kylara most needs to get her ship and crew out of a politically unsettled part of space (in order to make a timely delivery of farm equipment) she becomes stranded in the middle of a local insurrection.
There are no flashy heroics, and the fate of the universe is never at stake. The qualities that will extricate Kylara and her crew from their difficulties are quite ordinary: honor, responsibility, strength of character, persistence, and some practically inedible fruitcakes. The young heroine's difficulties and situation would strongly appeal to readers aged 16-25, but although I am much older, I enjoyed the story a great deal. Moon's prosaic focus and her avoidance of conventional plot-lines may disappoint readers who crave a standard diet of romance and excitement. I don't suffer from this problem, and look forward to the next in what will be an enjoyable series.