Kingdom Of Cages
Copyright 2001 by
I first read this on the 31st August 2002.
The days of optimistic expansion into space, the colonisation of new worlds, are over.
Now a hundreds of years later, the far-flung worlds that humanity had settled are
failing. Long-term survival on these alien planets proved tougher than
expected. Difficult though colonies are to establish, at least it was found that the
colonists were ignored and unaffected by the indigenous flora and fauna. What was not
expected was that the alien biology would eventually adapt sufficiently to attack and
infect the human colonists. Humanity itself has been weakened by hidden costs of its
diaspora and these colonies are now particularly susceptible to these alien attacks.
Indeed, many colonies have failed, many worlds have been lost. Earth, suffering its own
problems, can not and will not offer support to the victims of this Diversity Crisis.
On only one planet does humanity, within self-imposed limitations,
flourish. This planet is Pandora, where the colonists live in isolated, shielded
towns and villages, their mission to study and protect the Pandorean ecology.
Now the survivors of the failed worlds have come to Pandora and have demanded to be
allowed to land and attempt to start their lives anew on the surface of this idyllic,
But the Pandorans cannot allow this. Mass immigration would negate their centuries
of careful tending of this planet, could result in the same disasters that overtook
the other worlds.
As the fleets of refugees accumulate in the skies above Pandora, the Pandorans strive
to find some general cure for the Diversity Crisis before it's too late.
Helice Trust knew that life was hopeless in her old home. Now she's brought her
teenage daughters, Chena and Teal, to Pandora to start a new life. She knows it's
going to be tough,
but she's a self-reliant and clever lady and she believes she can handle it. Sadly,
that won't be the case. Humanity demands either Pandora or a cure, and the Pandorans
require either the cure, or a weapon to defend themselves and their planet against the
rest of humanity. If Helice can be of use in their search, they'll use her, and use
her up, any way they wish.
Only two Pandorans, Nan Elle and Administrator Tam, are inclined to help the Trust
family, but both are suffering serious constraints. Nan Elle is old and without hope
for any substantive change in their world. Tam is struggling with his conscience, with his
morality against his faith in his family.
Sarah Zettel is a very good writer. She writes classic SF with great ideas and good
characters and puts them into exciting situations. I was quite out of breath by the
time I finished reading this book. There are several very interesting threads to this
novel: the search for a solution to the Diversity Crisis itself, the coming-of-age of
Chena and Teal, the AIs that manage the outposts on Pandora, Teal's "tailoring", the
artificial Consciences implanted in all Pandorans citizens.
These multiple threads also highlight the problem in the novel. There's just too much
in it. It's long but still too complicated for its length. Too many interesting
characters are simply discarded and too much potential wasted. Threads that do
continue to run through most of the plot are are left hanging, unresolved, at the
conclusion. I could happily have read a Pandoran trilogy where Zettel's wonderful
ideas are given more room to develop even, if she really wanted, more time for Chena
to scrabble through the jungle.
What's it got? tough girls, bad women and big ships, artificial intelligence, and
armies of voracious little ants. It's good, but not as good as her excellent
Loaded on the 31st October 2002.