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Code of Conduct
Kristine Smith
Avon EOS Books, 352 pages

Code of Conduct
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.

Code of Conduct is Smith's first novel. Rules of Conflict, the sequel to Code of Conduct, is due out from Avon Eos in September 2000. The third book in the series, Law of Survival, is currently scheduled for mid-2001.

Kristine Smith Website
ISFDB Bibliography

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Catherine Asaro

Code of Conduct tells a fast-paced story that weaves intrigue, politics, and personal honour into a sophisticated tapestry. With well-realized characters, both human and alien, and a plot full of gratifying twists and turns, this book showcases a fine new voice in science fiction.

About 20 years prior to the book's opening scene, Captain Jani Kilian almost died in a civil war among the idomeni, an alien race enough like humans to make their vast differences disturbing. Framed for treason and then presumed dead in an explosion, she has spent the years since in hiding. After the blast, her doctors put her back together with illegal experiments that combined human and idomeni genes. Now it is catching up with her. Is she dying -- or changing into a new species that could threaten the existence of both humans and idomeni?

Jani thinks she is safe -- until Evan van Reuter, the powerful Interior Minister of the Commonwealth, finds her. He wants her to solve a mystery that could destroy him: why did his wife die? The author sets-up a wonderfully Byzantine scenario, with the dangerous, augmented Jani as an ideal choice of investigator from Evan's point of view, but a terrible choice as far as Jani is concerned.

One pleasure of this novel is the rich cast, both human and idomeni, that tangles the investigation. To snarl matters more, Evan is Jani's former lover. She finds herself in a political maze that could shake the foundations of the Commonwealth. Smith ties this all together in a well-written story that leaves the reader wanting more. Fortunately, two sequels wait in the pipeline, tentatively titled Rules of Conflict and Law of Survival.

The action moves at a good clip. Smith fills in needed details of the complicated background without giving info dumps. She makes it looks easy with her deft plotting, but what she achieves is far from simple. The book opens almost two decades after some of the events that created the present situation. The background unfolds with the story, enhancing the plot. It pulled me in so well, in fact, that I would have liked more about Jani and the society that created her. Code of Conduct offers tantalizing glimpses into the universe Smith has created. I look forward to reading more in her upcoming books.

Smith does a good job with the idomeni, in particular Tsecha, a political and religious leader among his people and an ambassador to Earth. Watching him exasperate his human hosts with his wry personality and audacious nature is fun. The book creates a strong portrayal of an alien, with the nifty twist that eating is a form of prayer for his people.

Another strength of this book is the subtle sensuality in Jani's relationships with Evan and another character, Lucien. Smith builds the tension with skill. Both men come across as danger mixed with sensual good looks, intriguing in their unpredictability and flaws, appealing even as they set off Jani's warning bells. It makes for a great read. Smith has a knack for capturing the elusive qualities that make such characters work.

The fact that I enjoyed this book so much is a tribute to Smith's sharp talent as a writer. I tend to avoid stories that cast a female protagonist as a loner who has no real friends or successful relationships. Such portrayals can leave a sour taste in the way they devalue the character's emotional needs. I've also found they often lack character development. Code of Conduct avoids those flaws for several reasons, the most important being the depth of characterization, not only for Jani, but also for less central characters.

Smith Does Character Well. The motivations and personalities of these people both surprise and make sense, a blend that isn't easy to achieve. With only a few lines, she can make a character real. In her introduction of Steve, she creates a whole background, image, and style for him with only a few paragraphs, all of it shown rather than told. Another reason the story worked so well for me was because Smith does such a fine job with the intrigue, politics, and complications of the plot and universe.

If the book has a flaw, it would be the lack of pay-off in Jani's emotional life. Her relationships don't live up to their promise. However, a big part of the reason I wanted to see Jani (and other characters) achieve more success in such emotional relationships is because Smith does such a good job writing about personal interactions. She made it matter to me as a reader. And that's a true pleasure to find in a writer.

Code of Conduct is good science fiction, good suspense, and an all around good read. Smith has a style all her own, one well worth getting to know.

Copyright © 1999 by Catherine Asaro

Catherine Asaro writes hard SF space adventure and near future romantic thrillers. Her book, The Radiant Seas, came out in November 1999 and The Veiled Web in December 1999. Her work has been nominated for the Hugo and Nebula and has won various other awards, including the Analog Readers Poll and Compuserve's HOMer. She earned her doctorate in Chemical Physics and masters in Physics, both from Harvard. Her husband is the proverbial rocket scientist. Catherine says she is a walking definition of the words "absent-minded" and has managed to spill coffee in every room in her house, which is a great source of amusement for her daughter.

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