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Tails You Lose
Lisa Smedman
Roc Books, 288 pages

Tails You Lose
Lisa Smedman
Lisa Smedman has written other Shadowrun novels. They include:
Shadowrun 23: Lucifer Deck,
Shadowrun 29: Blood Sport,
Shadowrun 33: Psychotrope
Shadowrun 37: The Forever Drug.

ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: The Forever Drug

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Donna McMahon

One of the signs of a successful novel is that it stands alone, regardless of whether the reader has read prequels, or -- in the case of media and gaming tie-ins -- is familiar with the universe it's set in. On that basis, Tails You Lose, the latest Lisa Smedman title in the Shadowrun series, is a winner -- a book that is readable by anybody, regardless of their interest or disinterest in gaming.

Tails You Lose follows the story of Alma, a security "counterextractions" specialist who is a loyal employee of Pacific Cybernetics (PCI), and the parallel story of her nemesis, Night Owl, a shadowrunner working in the Vancouver underground.

As the book opens, shadowrunners (probably hired by another corporation) have kidnapped PCI's top researcher. When Alma tries to intercept them, things go terribly wrong. The researcher is dead and, even worse, PCI suspects Alma of complicity in his kidnapping. She must track down the shadowrunners who did this, and fast, before the beta-test REM chip in her brain malfunctions or is detonated by PCI.

The setting of the Shadowrun books is North America of the 2060s, after magic was "awakened" and many humans were transformed into elves, orcs, dwarves, and other mythical creatures. It's an odd mix of cyberpunk, Tolkien and North American native mythology, but Smedman melds the elements surprisingly well, in part because of her nice tech details and her deft feel for pop culture. For instance:

"The bouncer was a Caucasian troll whose curving ram's-head horns brushed the top of the doorway she stood in. Her iron-gray hair was buzzed short. Both of her lower tusks were capped with gold and the fingernails on her massive hands were also gilded. She wore jeans, cowboy boots with built-in spurs, and a long-sleeved black T-shirt with the words "MAGIC BOX" down each arm; the letters kept changing colour and emitted a haze of fizzing sparks."
Vancouver readers will also enjoy the local settings, and the familiar melange of Asian and Western cultures.

After reading the first two chapters, I thought I knew where Tails You Lose was going, and I wasn't sure I wanted to go along, in part because Alma is a protagonist who is very difficult to warm to. However the quick pace of this book kept me reading and Smedman surprised me by adding twists of both plot and character, building to a satisfying climax.

Copyright © 2002 Donna McMahon

Donna McMahon discovered science fiction in high school and fandom in 1977, and never recovered. Dance of Knives, her first novel, was published by Tor in May, 2001, and her book reviews won an Aurora Award the same month. She likes to review books first as a reader (Was this a Good Read? Did I get my money's worth?) and second as a writer (What makes this book succeed/fail as a genre novel?). You can visit her website at

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