Wildcatter – Dave Duncan

Wildcatter_-_Dave_Duncan_cover

The prospector is the person who actually goes down to the newly discovered planet. Hired on by a thinly-funded company with one ship and one shot at the big time, Seth is the ship’s jack-of-all-trades and low man on the totem pole. Traveling with two women, one other man, and two hermaphrodites who regularly shift sex, they find a mystery at journey’s end, and it’s up to Seth to work it out.

This is an unusual book, in that it feels both dated and up to date. It’s fairly modern in its (extrapolated) milieu, and in smooth handling of periodic hermaphrodites (and of their pronouns). Yet there are hints of long-outmoded sexism in some of the throw-away comments and attitudes. It feels, in fact, like an older, but updated novel. It’s listed as first published in 2012, but by Open Road Media, which seems to mostly focus on reprints. All in all then, my guess is that it’s an old bottom drawer novel brought to light.

That’s not as negative as it sounds. Duncan is generally reliable, and he does a good job here. The story’s not a big one, but he does well at making it both credible and interesting. Seth, the main character, is likeable. Duncan mainly forgoes the opportunity to develop the other characters and their relationships, keeping the story to a light adventure level. It’s a bit disappointing, but as light adventure, the book delivers.

There are some weak points, for the science and law nitpickers among us. This is very much at the soft SF end of things, but there were a couple of stumbling blocks that should have been edited out. For one thing, while in his Dodec duology, Duncan showed evidence of thinking about how his planet could actually function, here I just didn’t follow his description of the orbital mechanics – it just wasn’t consistent. Some of the legal issues just wouldn’t work the way the book suggests – though perhaps there’s an implied shift in in legal mechanics as well.

All in all, a fun, quick, moderately credible read.

* The copy-editing was imperfect – an occasional fault in Open Road books. They do a nice job of bringing books back to life, but more investment in quality control would be welcome.

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