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Rules of Conflict
Kristine Smith
HarperCollins EOS Books, 352 pages

Rules of Conflict
Kristine Smith
Kristine Smith was born in Buffalo, New York, and grew up in Florida. She earned her B.S. in Chemistry from the University of South Florida. She has spent most of her working career in manufacturing, research and development, and currently works for a large pharmaceutical manufacturer. When she isn't working or writing, she reads, plays golf, and roots for the Cubs and the Dolphins.

Rules of Conflict is the sequel to Smith's first novel, Code of Conduct. The third book in the series, Law of Survival, is currently scheduled for mid-2001.

Kristine Smith Website
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: Code of Conduct

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Marc Goldstein

Despite its martial title, Rules of Conflict isn't military SF (with all the carnage and cardboard characters that sub-genre usually implies). Rather, this sequel to Kristine Smith's well-received first novel, Code of Conduct, is a labyrinthine thriller emphasizing intrigue and personal politics. Smith has imagined an impressive future of believable characters, credibly convoluted political affairs, disturbingly realistic aliens, and fearsome technology.

To know Captain Jani Kilian, first you have to absorb her complex backstory. Twenty years ago she served as an archivist attached to a diplomatic corps on a mission to establish relations with an alien race known as the idomeni. During that mission she murdered her commanding officer after he took sides in an idomeni civil war. Mortally wounded by an explosion during her escape attempt, doctors John Shroud and Valentin Parini rebuilt Kilian by introducing idomeni DNA into her system. Now, after twenty years on the lam, her hybrid body is breaking down.

When Kilian finally seeks medical care, she is quickly captured and brought back to Service HQ to learn her fate. She fully expects to be court-martialled and pilloried, but soon discovers that powerful political figures have a vested interest in making sure that no one ever dredges up her past. But years of guilt compel Kilian to investigate the motives of her shadowy protectors. With the help of Lt. Lucien Pascal, an intelligence officer assigned to "protect" her, and a strange archivist named Sam Duong, she begins to unravel the secrets behind what really happened during the idomeni civil war.

While Kilian struggles to make sense of the political interests behind the cover-up, she is allowed to assume some of her old duties and becomes the key figure in a tricky negotiation with the idomeni. The diplomatic mission reunites her with an idomeni religious leader and ambassador she knows as Nema. Nema and Kilian have a relationship pre-dating the idomeni civil war. He refers to Kilian as his "Eyes and Ears" and takes a keen interest in protecting her.

Meanwhile, Evan Van Reuter, a politician from an influential family, has fallen from grace. He has been ostracized from his family and is held under house arrest pending investigation of his actions during the idomeni civil war. Van Reuter's legal defense requires offering up Kilian as the fall guy, a situation further complicated by that fact that he and Jani used to be lovers. Van Reuter's defense crumbles as the cover-up buries Kilian's past, and he threatens to blow the whistle.

Critics of Smith's debut novel attacked it for being overly complicated. Rules of Conflict, too, is a challenging read. (It should be noted that this is the second volume of a planned trilogy, so some back-story needs to be taken in, and not all of the loose ends get tied up.) The cast of characters is vast and diverse. The names of the idomeni characters and locations will leave your tongue in knots. And the conspiracy has more twists than a mountain highway. I don't doubt that readers unaccustomed to such demanding text will be turned off. But I'd argue that any good conspiracy story ought to leave your head spinning -- that's part of the fun. The novel's complexity accomplishes what good SF is supposed to do: transport you to a future that is persuasively otherworldly.

Smith's strengths as a writer shine through. Despite the story's complexity, the plot moves briskly and never gets bogged down with unnecessary exposition. Smith has an exceptional way with character. Jani Kilian is a bold, intelligent protagonist. The supporting cast members are equally human, with their own ulterior motives and hidden agendas. It is a testament to Smith's skill that her characters remain credible and never get subsumed by the machinations of the plot or the minutiae of the setting. Smith's skill with characterization also bleeds into her idomeni characters. Their culture, which regards eating as a form of sacred worship and values open antagonism over diplomatic tact, is convincingly alien.

Rules of Conflict has enough ideas to fill several novels. It's a conspiracy thriller chock-full of suspense and intrigue, populated with compelling characters, and set in an absorbing SF universe. Its richness and depth rewards committed readers.

Copyright © 2000 by Marc Goldstein

Marc is the SF Site Games Editor and the principal contributor to the SF Site's Role Playing Department. Marc lives in Santa Ana, California with his wife, Sabrina and cat, Onion.

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