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Expendable
James Alan Gardner
Avon Books, 337 pages

Expendable

James Alan Gardner
James Alan Gardner has honed his skills publishing short works in Amazing, The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine, Onspec, and the Tesseracts anthologies. He has won numerous writing awards, including Grand Prize winner of the Writers of the Future Award (1989) as well as an Aurora Award for best short story (1990). When he isn't writing, he keeps himself busy practicing kung-fu, recovering from bruises, and writing computer documentation. A Canadian resident of Waterloo Ontario, he lives with his wife and two rabbits.

Expendable Excerpt
Avon Books Website

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Steven MacDonald

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Citizens of the League of Peoples can look forward to a long and safe life. For the few deemed imperfect in some way -- the disfigured, misfit or deformed -- becoming an ECM (Expendable Crew Member) is the only option.

Ostracized by an inconvenient birthmark, Festina Ramos has trained from early childhood to survive in almost any conceivable environment or situation. She is conscious that she has been denied the long life offered to the vast majority of citizens of the League of Peoples, because of her imperfections.

Ramos and her partner Yarrun Derigha have been ordered to accompany a high ranking admiral to the planet of no return, Melaquin. Several exploration teams have been sent to Melaquin, never to be heard from again. Festina Ramos is about to uncover the mystery of Melaquin... whether she wants to or not!

In many ways, the story is enchanting. Odd when you consider the situation of Festina Ramos, an Expendable Crew Member on a starship. Slated to be front and center whenever any potential risk presents itself to the starship crew.

Expendable serves up very convincing doses of the darker side of human nature against a background of enchanting beauty. The secrets of Melaquin are fascinating. Therein lies my concern with the story. Don't get me wrong -- I enjoyed it. It's very well laid out, and well written. What bothered me was the exploration of the darker side of the human psyche. I suppose I am still a bit of an idealist deep down. In many ways, this is a futuristic tragedy.

I felt so many things in the course of reading Expendable. There were times when I was extremely caught up in the feelings of Festina Ramos -- an outcast, a non-member of society, but doing the most dangerous work. This story explores the volatile mixture created when a self-serving bureaucracy culls the populace for intelligent, independent thinkers whose only crime is some slight disfigurement which could easily be corrected. They are put on the front lines. They take all the risks so that the majority can live comfortably and safely. I find Gardner to be particularly good at evoking emotions from the page of a book. He is especially good at evoking disgust.

Imaginative, well thought out, and containing interesting characters with real depth. Expendable makes me want to read other offerings by James Alan Gardner.

Copyright © 1997 by Steven MacDonald

Steven MacDonald developed an abiding interest in the Fantasy/SF genre at the tender age of 14, when he chanced upon a copy of Analog. He's lived on a steady diet of F&SF ever since.


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