Saturday, July 1, 2017

Past the Red Line

Flesh Trade

David Agranoff & Edward Morris

Publisher: Grand Mal Press

Pub. date: August, 2017

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

There is a term used by evolutionary scientists describing a species that can proliferate almost anywhere. When they do proliferate, they often overcrowd and endanger the native animals. Those species are "weeds" and scientists say the most successful weed of them all is man.

In Flesh Trade it is "2384 CE (old earth calendar)" The descendants of Earth has reached far into the galaxies to the agreed upon "Red Line" where humans must end their expansion into space. However colonies do spring up past the red line and they are now lawless frontiers profiting in many criminal endeavors, especially slavery and prostitution. Governor Andall Shelton is hosting a conference of the various civilizations in the universe on the most far-reached colonized planet of the human expansion, Konstantinopolis. Many of the alien civilizations resent the human incursion and the unofficially recognized market in sexual slaves past the expansion's limit. Andall is well aware the conference will determine peace or war but is interrupted and tested when his own daughter and his daughter's friend are abducted and taken to NewKok, one of the most dangerous settlements past the red line.

David Agranoff and Edward Morris has accomplished an impressive epic in Flesh Trade. There is some nice world-building especially at the beginning. The aliens are well thought out with the aquatic Strellans being one of the most interesting. Due to their unusual sensual nature, the Strellans are most affected by the slave trade and most likely to initiate war. The socio-political atmosphere of the summit comes through at the beginning of this book and makes for some heady reading but we do not lose sight of the main characters; Andall, his wife Rizz, and his daughters Liv and Cassie. The other kidnapped girl Nalla and her mother Sun will also be playing a major role. We get a good feel for this world with its precarious politics and its corrupt underbelly but when Andall’s daughter is kidnapped the plot takes a decisive turn. Andall and Rizz, along Sun, goes past the red line to rescue them. The novel shifts to dark science fiction noir and non-stop action. Without giving away all the thrills, there are blotched rescue attempts and a last ditch Hail Mary move reminiscent of William Gibson that places Andall’s mind and soul literally in danger of annihilation.

It is that effortless switch from socio-political worldbuilding to sci-fi noir that makes this novel work so well. From a world of questionable diplomacy and government threats to another world of straight-out dog-eat-dog decadence and criminality, the authors have both down perfectly. We believe Andall in both worlds, especially when he takes on the extra baggage that is hinted at in the prologue which allows him his last chance to rescue the girls. Rizz and Sun are no wallflowers either. There is no feminine weeping and screaming here. They are immensely strong characters who will kick ass right along with, and sometimes better than, any man. The action rarely slows down. The scenes of slavery and prostitution may be a little rough for some but overall this is one tough hombre of a novel.

Flesh Trade is as good a science fiction book as they come. Right now, it is my pick for best science fiction novel of 2017. It is also an edge-of-your-seat adventure novel reeking in crime noir, mercenary action, and underworld decadence. What is impressive is how well they both come together and how we never lose the humanity of the main characters throughout all the double-dealing and violence. If you have any love for science fiction, I highly recommend this as your next  read.

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