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Valerie J. Freireich
Roc Books, 345 pages

Valerie J. Freireich
Valerie J. Freireich's previous novels include Becoming Human, its sequel, Testament, and The Beacon.

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Another Review of IMPOSTER

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Mark Shainblum

Valerie Freireich's Imposter has many things going for it: sympathetic characters, a rich and credible future civilization, and a genuine sense of wonder absent from much current science fiction. More, the background and settings of this intriguing novel are almost as interesting as the foreground characters.

Set millennia in the future, Freireich's galactic society is refreshingly different. The civilizations of the East and West have apparently evolved into several competing galactic states, including a powerful quasi-Empire called the Polite Harmony of Worlds -- which seems to encompass aspects of both Confucianism and Western materialism -- and a hyper-Islamic sultanate called the United Emirates.

Marcer Brice is a bio-engineered Altered Human, a second-class citizen of the Harmony but a citizen nonetheless. A respected academic researcher who is suddenly and inexplicably exiled to the United Emirates -- a society clearly modelled on such extreme Islamic cultures as Iran and Taliban Afghanistan -- Brice is completely lost, culturally and personally. More dangerously, he finds himself thrust into the dangerous game of interstellar politics and the growing possibility of war between the Emirates and the Harmony, and the machinations of an alien species who may be trying to set human against human for their own ends.

It all sounds familiar, but Freireich manages to pull it off in an entirely new and refreshing way. In fact, the way she sets up and then defeats her readers' expectations is just masterful. She doesn't deal in stock characters or stock societies, there are no obvious black hats and white hats. Her "good guys" do stupid and even bad things and her "bad guys" have depth and humanity and reasons for being what they are. Even the threat posed by the aliens isn't quite the threat the humans think it is. I can say no more without giving away one of the major turning points of the novel.

I particularly enjoyed the fact that neither the Harmony nor the Emirates are painted in primary colours. The Emirates is a rigid, misogynist theocracy, but in many ways is still a more open society than the rigidly stratified Harmony -- which preaches a libertine ethic at the personal level but imposes a harsh utilitarian and materialist philosophy on its people. Women are full citizens of the Harmony, while one of the books major subplots centres around the degenerating status of women within the Emirates (which echoes the real situation in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan today). Yet both societies look down upon Altereds like Brice, people bio-engineered for life on worlds too harsh for baseline humans. Shades of grey within grey.

Highly recommended.

Copyright © 1998 by Mark Shainblum

Mark Shainblum is the co-editor of Arrowdreams: An Anthology Of Alternate Canadas (Nuage Editions, 1997) the first anthology of Canadian alternate history. A veteran of the comic book field, Mark co-created the 1980's Canadian superhero Northguard and currently writes the Canadian political parody series Angloman both in the form of a paperback book series and as a weekly comic strip in the Montreal Gazette. He lives in Montreal with his computer, his slippers and a motley collection of books.

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