Dave Duncan does the new space opera.

Dave Duncan. Pock’s World (Edge 2010).

The publisher calls Pock’s World ‘a classic science fiction adventure,’ & why not: when you’re looking for a good adventure, Dave Duncan is a sure thing. Mostly in fantasy, but he can certainly do SF as well, & Pock’s World is a good example of his sly & fast paced plotting, his ability to construct intriguingly different worlds, & his knack for quick & entertaining characterization & dialogue. All in all, it’s a fun read, with just a little hidden kick of ethical philosophizing about the future of post-humanity (although he’d never use such a term).

Some 15 thousand years in the future, humankind has moved out into the universe & found no other intelligent species. In Duncan’s far future, a kind of isolation has occurred; there is much traffic within vast sectors of star systems but little if any communication between sectors. STARS Inc, which has long controlled the instantaneous travel links between planets has also severed any links, except perhaps centuries-long starship travel, between sectors. The Catholic Church still rules within Christianity, although a female Pope has just died in the Ayne Sector. It believes that humanity must remain as God made it, so, although it has accepted small adjustments to the human genome to adapt to different planets, any attempt to ‘improve’ the species it sees as abomination. And now STARS has quarantined Pock’s World, accusing it of being infected by ‘cuckoos’ – ‘improved’ alien humans.

That’s the starting point: on Ayne, STARS chooses five representatives to go to Pock’s World & make a report, before it ‘sterilizes’ the planet to protect humanity. The commission includes the priest, Father Andre, who is willing to ‘sacrifice’ the planet’s population if that will save mankind. There’s an honest politician (really), a shady billionaire, a bureaucrat, & a young muckraking & cynical reporter. On the planet, there are a few representatives of STARS (which seems more shady & repressive the more the representatives learn about its history & actions), & there are a few Christians, but, most importantly, there are the Mother Goddess’s four living avatars who make up her various figures, Monody.

Duncan knows how to plot a compelling & convoluted political story (everything is finally politics?). as well as setting up an Ayne versus STARS scenario, putting together an intriguing science/religion confrontation, & exploring some aspects of sex & politics, he also has a lot of fun with reporter Ratty Turnsole’s infatuation with the youngest Monody, Joy. And then there are the cuckoos, one of which, a teenager, has been captured, & tortured, by the STARS Inc people on Pock’s World. Not to mention the fact that, although STARS has put together a commission to report on whether or not to destroy the planet, it has, in fact, taken care of that matter already.
Duncan keeps his plots moving quickly, as he unravels how everything works out, & whether or not the Mother Goddess or some other power saves the planet, as well as just how evil an improved humanity might be. Once again, in Pock’s World, he delivers a fast paced entertainment with some thoughtful bite.

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