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BSI Starside: Death Sentence
Roger MacBride Allen
Bantam Spectra, 482 pages

BSI Starside: Death Sentence
Roger MacBride Allen
Roger MacBride Allen was born in Bridgeport, Connecticut in 1957. His family moved to Bethesda, Maryland when he was nine years old. He went to Boston University, and graduated with a degree in journalism in 1979. He returned to the Washington area to take on a series of jobs to support himself while he tried to finish his first novel. He landed a job in the publications department of the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges. While there, he sold his first novel, The Torch of Honor, to Baen Books. Roger settled down to write full time, and he has produced roughly a book a year from that time to this.

Roger MacBride Allen Website
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Past Feature Reviews
A review by Greg L. Johnson

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Science fiction readers, and writers, for that matter, have long watched as ideas from their favorite fiction made their way into other forms of media; movies and television shows being the most obvious examples. You can argue how well those ideas have translated into other forms; like all things there are examples both good and bad, but the fact remains that many of the nifty ideas that we tend to think of as ours eventually make their way out into the wider world. It's also not a one-way street, and with the BSI Starside series, we have the latest example of a template being picked up and moved from one medium to another. In this case, it's the format of one of the most successful television shows of the last decade, and the template is that of the plucky forensic detectives who solve crimes by painstakingly sifting through, sorting, and examining whatever evidence they can get their hands on.

In Death Sentence, the investigators are Senior Special Agent Hannah Wolfson, and her partner, Jamie Mendez. Their problems begin when another Special Agent, Trip Wilcox is found dead in his small spaceship. Wilcox had been on a diplomatic mission, conveying a document from the alien Metrannan back to Earth. The document has been found, but the key to decoding the encryption is gone, and there is reason to suspect that Wilcox was murdered, but not before he found a way to hide the key. Wolfson and Mendez's assignment is two-fold; find out who killed Wilcox, and, more importantly, find the key. The one thing that is known about the information contained in the document is that someone thinks it would be worth starting an interstellar war over.

With a set-up like that, you would expect the story in Death Sentence to start with a bang. Instead, the first part of the novel gets bogged down in a series of conversations between Hannah and Jamie as they take off in order to track down Wilcox's contacts among the aliens, and try to puzzle out the whereabouts of the hidden key. The problem is that their conversations, while full of information, are actually a bit dull. The real interest in the early stages of the novel are the aliens, two species living on the same planet, one of whose physical form is hidden inside a metal carapace.

The set-up of Death Sentence may resemble a television show, but the universe into which the human beings find themselves venturing is classic science fiction, with echoes of everyone from Andre Norton to David Brin. Humans are newcomers to galactic society, a Younger Race looked down on by older, more established species, some of whom have been around for millions of years. The politics of inter-species relationships help to complicate the Special Agents task and add a dimension of depth and context to their job.

The story finally takes off when Hannah and Jamie reach the planet of the Metrannans. From there on, they spend more time actually doing things than talking about doing things, and the result is a novel that finally lives up to its potential as an adventure story built around the mystery of a dying man's final act. As such, Death Sentence provides a pretty good reason to turn off the TV set, and spend an evening reading instead.

Copyright © 2007 by Greg L. Johnson

At this point, reviewer Greg L Johnson is forced to confess that he does actually spend the occasional evening sitting around watching TV. His reviews also appear in the The New York Review of Science Fiction.


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