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Prodigy
Jan Clark
Roc Books, 447 pages

A review by Leon Olszewski

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Answering a warning signal, Captain Rieka Degahv finds a Procyon vessel in Commonwealth space. It's been five years since the last such meeting -- and in the past the Procyons have preferred to fight rather than to communicate. Disobeying an order to destroy the enemy ship, Rieka merely disables it. As her crew tows the crippled ship to port, it explodes. Arriving at port, Captain Degahv is arrested for treason. The official word is that there was an emissary on board the alien craft bringing an important document to the Council, and that Rieka's orders had been to escort the ship safely, not to fire upon it.

Aided by two friends from an earlier training mission, Rieka attempts to recreate the true series of events. Her friends include Triscoe Marteen, an Indran telepath, one of the few Indrans with the ability to Singlemind, or link two minds. Triscoe finds that Rieka's memories don't match the official story, and that there is something more which she is unable to remember. Soon the clues lead to a mind-altering machine, a list of people whose memories have been tampered with, and a conspiracy to stage a coup in the Commonwealth.

From the description it might be easy to dismiss Prodigy as standard space opera, yet it rises beyond those expectations. In her first novel, Jan Clark has brought interesting, well-fleshed-out characters and races together. Their interactions and conflicts add an additional layer to the story, making it fuller and richer.

Those of you who've read and relished C.J. Cherryh's Downbelow Station or her Chanur series will find much to enjoy here, for the parallels are fairly strong:

Most of the book takes place in space or on space stations;
Lots of action slowed neither by detailed military tactics nor in depth explanations of technology;
A strong female protagonist;
A confederation of multiple races, where Humans are neither the most influential nor most powerful;
Alien races whose thought processes are quite different from our own.
Still, in some senses I found Clark's aliens a bit too humanoid, their drives a bit too familiar. Her prose is not quite as richly textured as Cherryh's. However, one would not have suspected this was a debut novel. I expect that her writing will become a rich tapestry as she hones her craft in future works.

Copyright © 1998 by Leon Olszewski

Leon Olszewski has read science fiction and fantasy for most of his life. He works at Spyglass, Inc. as their Manager of Network Services.

Prodigy
Jan Clark
Jan Clark currently lives in Fort Worth, Texas, with her husband, two children, dog, and many tropical fish who won't stay still long enough to be counted. A full-time writer and voracious reader, Jan is also a proficient cook and horsewoman. Prodigy is her first novel.

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