This Alien Shore by C.S. Friedman
This Alien Shore is another outstanding science fiction novel by an author who I’ve come to respect immensely for her extraordinarily creative worlds, fascinating ideas, complex characters, and elegant prose. If there’s one flaw (from my perspective) with Friedman’s work, it’s a difficulty in actually liking many of her characters, but even if you find that it’s hard to sympathize with them, it’s also hard not to admire them, or at least to see them as superb creations.
I think many readers will, however, sympathize with Jamisia, the protagonist of This Alien Shore. She’s on the run from unknown enemies who want the bioware that’s in her brain. She can’t feel safe anywhere because she has no idea why her brain is so valuable, or to whom. Is it the Guerran guild that oversees all intergalactic traffic? An Earth corporation who wants to break the guild’s monopoly? Maybe it’s a terrorist from the Houseman Variants — those former humans who were mutated by Earth’s first attempts to break out of the galaxy and now want to punish their Terran ancestors by isolating them.
As Jamisia is trying to evade her unidentified pursuers, she also has to deal with the extra people who live in her head. Humans on Earth have managed to cure all mental disorders, but Jamisia, for some reason, has not been cured of her multiple personality disorder — or perhaps her condition has been purposely created. If Earth finds out that she’s not normal, they will take her into custody.
Fortunately, Jamisia meets a few people who can give her some help, though they’ve got their own issues to deal with. In particular, Phoenix the hacker is trying to trace the origin of Lucifer, a computer virus that’s killing his friends when they’re hooked into the Outernet. Could it be a government plot designed to take out all those Moddies who’ve got illegal bioware installed in their brains? But Lucifer is not only stalking hackers — it’s invading the minds of the pilots who guide spaceships through the Ainniq, the dangerous crack in space/time that’s full of monsters but is the only way to travel to other galaxies. Could the virus be linked to Jamisia’s bioware?
Besides the exciting plot, the most impressive part of This Alien Shore is Friedman’s characterization of Jamisia’s multiple personalities. This was sometimes funny (especially when the emo boy took over), but it was also incredibly eerie. Also well done was Phoenix the hacker. Since I have a son with this type of personality, I can attest that she gets it just right — the arrogance, ambition, curiosity, single-mindedness, and dogged determination to solve a computer programming problem, even if it means ignoring all other aspects of life such as eating.
In many ways, C.S. Friedman’s work reminds me of William Gibson’s — unique settings, complex and fascinating (though not necessarily likeable) characters, cool ideas and technology, a smart and savvy style. Friedman’s plots are always tighter, though. If they haven’t yet, Gibson fans should give Friedman a try.
I listened to Audible Frontier’s production of This Alien Shore which was narrated by Kathleen McInerney. She was new to me, but I thought she was perfect for this story. She has a nice voice and cadence and was convincing in her various roles. This Alien Shore is highly recommended, especially in audio format.