Roc / 384 pages / November 2000
Time flies, doesn’t it? We invent tools. We invent the internal combustion engine. We land little information collectors on Mars. But we, the human race, don’t seem to get much better as a whole; there will always be some glaring errors, such as ignorance, intolerance, and our inexplicable need for class struggle. Chances are, we aren’t going to improve just because our toys do.
Thiadora Murphy knows all about the prejudice and the pain of being a second-class citizen; she’s experienced it from both sides of the conflict. She was born a floater, humans who live their lives in zero-gee. See, everyone knew someone was going to have to do the hard work in deep space, and if that happens to cause health problem and cut that group off from gravity worlds, well, we just don’t have to associate with those strange creatures.
Except, Murphy wants to serve in the Collective Enforcement Agency. That puts her physically in the world of “grounded” society, not that they accept her as an equal. The fact that she is an ace pilot hasn’t won her many friends at the Academy. Plus, it puts her plans in direct opposition to the floater community that is still home. A community that to the grounded world is essentially disposable.
Syne Mitchell took on a daunting task for her first novel — how to relate complex science and science fiction elements without confusing and discouraging a large part of her audience. How does she accomplish this? Effortlessly. Oh, the writing, no doubt, required both effort and style. But, to read and understand it? Pure, unadulterated pleasure. Mitchell explains new concepts in such a subtle, masterful way that it is long after the passage is over before you look back and realise that you learned something.
Why couldn’t school have been this painless and addictive?
As you will see in Murphy’s Gambit, Syne is a born teacher and storyteller. The plot moves along at a brisk pace, jumping from danger to danger as the space vessels jump across the galaxy. Murphy is as realistic and appealing as any character in science fiction. Mitchell’s purposes and values enter the story as naturally as any other element of fiction. And while you’re enjoying the great spacefaring adventure and the non-stop action, believe it or not, you’re learning something. You’ve effortlessly absorbed every point she had to make. And richly enjoyed every word of it.
Too much praise for a first-time author? Nah. Talent like Syne Mitchell’s is the kind you can’t afford to let slip by. It would be best for all of us if she continued to produce novels of this calibre on a regular (well, maybe a bit more frequent) basis. We can all use the entertainment and the added bonus of feeling just a bit more savvy at the end. Ah! This is the best of both worlds.