CROSSFIRE (COSMIC CROSSFIRE)
Tor / 368 pages / February 2003
One of the greatest gifts an author can give you is uncertainty. Exceedingly rare are the novels you can find wherein you don’t know the outcome long before you finish the book, but Nancy Kress is one of those singular authors who fools you at every turn. Fools you if you are so rash as to try to guess the outcome of the next scene or the next chapter, much less the ending. What a treat to be surprised again and again, for once.
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Crossfire finds a shipful of interstellar refugees from a rapidly self-destructing Earth en route to an uninhabited planet where they have modest to radical plans for starting over. Aboard the Ariel the atmosphere is a bit edgy as some travellers attempt to make as much of the voyage out of stasis as possible; a dangerous situation under the best of conditions and these are not the best. But, despite a few crises on the way, the passengers reach Greentrees safely and prepare themselves to build their new civilisation.
Unfortunately, there is a slight hitch in their designs: another sentient species is already occupying parts of their pristine new planet. To make matters worse, it is obvious that the others were transplanted to Greentrees. And with every new thing they learn about the humanoids the danger level rises. With the introduction of a third species of very alien aliens, the settler find themselves directly in the line of fire in a thousand-year-old war. Unless they can find a way to stop the war their pioneering venture, and possibly their species existence, is going to be cut quite short.
Kress is a master of storytelling, so you can rest assured that characters will never be forgotten in the complex plot and setting. Even more complicated are the relationships among the divergent groups and the conflict within each settler. From expedition founder Jake Holman and the dark, devastating secret he carries to the ever peaceful, often maddening, Dr. Shipley who “leads” the New Quakers to the mystifying aliens of both races, Crossfire is populated with fascinating, flawed characters. And the next move of any of these beings is as impossible to predict as the next turn of the narrative.
Crossfire is a story of seemingly endless wars, both without and within. Human beings have never been able to peacefully co-exist with each other, without throwing unknown quantities into the mix. The greater struggle though, takes place deep inside each person on Greentrees as they grope for understanding, tolerance, and a framework they can live with peacefully. Given the secrets hidden in the pasts of many of the characters, it will be astonishing if they survive the struggle.
What motivates us? How far will each of us go to obtain our dreams? And will we be able to live with the results of our action or inaction? All of these are questions Kress addresses in honest, unflinching fashion with each new novel. It’s a dilema that eternally haunts us and the engine that makes her novels so damn irresistible.