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Trading in Danger
Elizabeth Moon
Orbit, 420 pages

Trading in Danger
Elizabeth Moon
Elizabeth Moon grew up in south Texas, 250 miles south of San Antonio and eight miles from the Mexican border. She attended Rice University and joined the US Marines in 1968. With a second degree in biology, she entertained thoughts about going to med school after her husband, but circumstances intervened.

Elizabeth Moon Website
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: Speed of Dark
SF Site Review: Once A Hero
SF Site Review: Rules of Engagement
SF Site Review: Remnant Population

Past Feature Reviews
A review by John Berlyne

Elizabeth Moon opens her new novel with her likable young heroine Kylara Vatta being thrown out of military academy in disgrace. Her crime appears to have been one of poor judgement rather than anything malicious, but the effect of the action illustrates the harsh (necessary) intolerance that such institutions function under. This in media res opening, in which we soon learn that a good person has been treated unjustly introduces Moon's protagonist in such a skilful way that it could only be the most hard-hearted of readers that would not warm to her.

Ky returns home to her supportive family, though it is hard for her not to feel ashamed and disgraced. Luckily for her, she has job to go to -- Vatta Transport are a huge interstellar trading concern, though her dismissal from the academy looks likely to draw some adverse publicity. It seems sensible then when Ky's father opts to give his daughter command of a vessel. The proposed trip will take her away for a while during which the furore can have time to die down. Ky's task is simple enough -- she must take an aging cargo vessel on its last run and deliver it for decommission and scrap.

This then is the act one set up for Trading in Danger, the conventional structure of which follows on with act two (in which Ky encounters a plethora of challenging problems) and act three (in which these problems are resolved.) This conventionalism represents both the strengths and failings of this novel. Certainly the plotting is tight -- the geography and societies detailed in the story are solid enough, but Moon leaves herself little room for character development. Ky is likeable enough and we experience her gritty determination and vulnerability first hand, but the supporting cast seem mere cardboard cut-outs alongside her. The danger suggested in the title is a long time in coming, for in the first sixty or so pages nothing at all dangerous happens, but as Ky's problems mount up, we begin to appreciate how the cards are stacked against her. When the time comes for her to put down a mutiny taking place on her ship (by far the best scene in the book), Ky asserts her independence with such delicious ruthlessness, that the reader really wants to see more of this darker side of her character. Instead, the novel reverts to type and the effect is a safe, tame story with all the insipid political correctness that we have come to associate with the Star Trek universe. On the plus side, Moon successfully manages to disabuse the reader of any notions concerning female military stereotypes and the are thematic hints about the pitfalls of relying too much on technology.

Though certainly entertaining (and that is reason enough to buy this book), Trading in Danger lacks the profundity of Moon's excellent previous (and intensely personal) novel The Speed of Dark.

Copyright © 2003 John Berlyne

John Berlyne is a book junkie with a serious habit. He is the long time UK editor of and is widely acknowledged to be the leading expert on the works of Tim Powers. John's extensive Powers Bibliography "Secret Histories" will be published in April 2009 by PS Publishing. When not consuming genre fiction, John owns and runs North Star Delicatessen, a gourmet food outlet in Chorlton, Manchester.

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