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First Contract
Greg Costikyan
Tor Books, 287 pages

Shelley Eshkar
First Contract
Greg Costikyan
Greg Costikyan is the author of three fantasy novels, including By the Sword and Another Day, Another Dungeon. He is also an internationally recognized game expert and consultant, and has created a number of multiple-award-winning games, including Star Wars: The Role-Playing Game, MadMaze (the first online game to have over one million players), and Paranoia. He has also written short stories and articles for a variety of publications. He lives in New York City.

Greg Costikyan Website
ISFDB Bibliography

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Victoria Strauss

"Ah, life is sweet." That's the mantra of Johnson Mukerjii, CEO of Mukerjii Display Systems, a high-tech company about to unveil a revolutionary new holographic display device. Indeed, life has been good to Mukerjii, whose business success has allowed him to acquire the very best in palatial mansions and trophy wives, and to indulge his taste for fine wine, gourmet food, Saville Row suits, and Jaguars. He fully expects the holographic display device, the MDS-316, to make him even richer.

Then the aliens arrive. Not with lasers and plans of Earth domination; these aliens are capitalists, and want to trade. On offer: a complete library of alien scientific and technological knowledge. The price: only the planet Jupiter. "Jupiter? What's it good for?" the Earth negotiators shrug, and hand it over.

The trouble is, the alien tech is useless because it's so far in advance of ours. Earth has just sold a precious resource for peanuts, as the Indians did with Manhattan Island centuries ago. And the first group of aliens is only the beginning. Suddenly, Earth is a tourist world, a quaint backwater destination for rich interstellar vacationers. Earth markets are flooded with alien products; the result is global economic collapse. After all, who wants a Jaguar when they can have an antigrav vehicle that will travel at Mach 6? Who wants the MDS-316 when they can have complete holographic sensory immersion?

In rapid succession, Mukerjii loses his mansion, his wife, his money, and his business. Homeless and penniless, he's reduced to working as a soup-kitchen cook in a shantytown. But though Mukerjii may be down, he isn't out. He has an idea for how to beat the aliens at their own game. Sure, Earth can't compete with alien technology, but what about tacky tourist items? If Mukerjii can figure out how to make and market some cheap bagatelle the aliens will want to buy, he'll be home free.

First Contract is a fast, funny book, an ironic jokefest that sends up everything from the world of high finance to the conventions of pulp SF. It's chock-full of clever details: the United Nations' glee when the aliens bypass the USA to deal with Earth's "planetary government"; the aliens' slick infomercial-style sales pitch; the tourist stores where Van Goghs are sold alongside velvet Elvis paintings because the aliens can't tell the difference; the alien cartel for which trade is a form of war and there's no such thing as a limited-liability corporation; an L. Ron Hubbard-ish SF writer who produces testosterone-fuelled books with titles like These Stars are Ours! and is the only person on Earth to successfully export his product, because the aliens think it's pricelessly funny. Costikyan is plainly having great fun with all of this, and it shows.

The danger of this sort of book, of course, is that it will become merely a string of gags. Costikyan avoids this by investing Mukerjii with a good deal of self-deprecating charm, despite his snobbery and his unapologetic lust for wealth and luxury. He's a character the reader is glad to follow through both fortune and misfortune, and to root for when it begins to seem he may be able to turn things around. Other characters are also well-drawn (especially Mukerjii's Norma Desmond-ish sales manager, and Leander Huff, the SF writer). And the action, while over-the-top, never becomes totally implausible. The ending is a bit pat (Costikyan isn't alone in not being able to figure out how to put a satisfying finish on a satirical tale of this sort), but this minor flaw doesn't in any way diminish the fun of this clever, enjoyable lampoon.

Copyright © 2000 by Victoria Strauss

Victoria Strauss is a novelist, and a lifelong reader of fantasy and science fiction. Her most recent fantasy novel The Garden of the Stone is currently available from HarperCollins EOS. For details, visit her website.

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