Author: Dan Simmons

Ace / 304 pages / January 2000

ISBN: 0441006965

In the course of reviewing Chepaitis’ novels, I have heaped so much praise on them that I am at a loss to describe Learning Fear. Of course, I could just say, “The Fear Principle was a dazzling debut.” “The Fear of God was even more remarkable and suspenseful.” And, then I would say, “Learning Fear is Chepaitis’ most stunning work yet.” It’s true, and it makes for good sound bites, but it doesn’t give you the complete picture.

And in the adventures of Jaguar Addams, you’ll want to get every morsel available. Something to tide you over until the next instalment.

Jaguar is possibly the most complex, enigmatic female character to emerge in science fiction in decades. An orphan of the Killing Times, the descendant of Native Americans, a Teacher on Planetoid Three, an empath, and an intensely private person, she reluctantly opens up a little more of herself with each adventure. Beneath the fearless exterior, we catch glimpses of the wounded, fragile creature inside. With every revelation, Jaguar becomes more human and more mystical.

Learning Fear finds Jaguar exiled to Earth to lecture at a university that is in the midst of anti-empathic protest. While teaching her own controversial course, she is also expected to ferret out the opponents and determine whether they present a genuine threat to the school.
But, even as she prowls the darkened campus, another empath has discovered her and begins to wear away at her strength.

That’s a lot of danger to worry about. Unfortunately, more enemies lie in wait, and they may be the deadliest foes of all.

More painful than the torment inflicted by any of these adversaries is Jaguar’s fury at Alex, her Supervisor, for allowing her to be banished from Planetoid Three. Throughout the series, a tangle of emotions has kept Jaguar and Alex together, but apart. Learning Fear examines that relationship further. The depth of their feelings is obvious to the reader, but the outcome could never be so simple with two such strong-willed people. One thing is certain; if these two ever do come together, it will be an outpouring of passion and power unlike any other pairing.

(A bit of forewarning to the uninitiated: words like “Teacher” and “Supervisor” have radically different meaning in this world. Of course, little involving Jaguar is as straightforward as it might seem at first glance.)

Chepaitis’ previous novels centre on the capture and “teaching” of a serial murderer, and Learning Fearis no exception. It is the nature and the motivation of this killer that stand out among the crowd of sociopaths Jaguar and her colleagues usually face. The killers’ very nature makes for the deadliest criminal they have encountered. So deadly, in fact, that they may not succeed this time. And failure means death.

This is a fascinating and dangerous world Chepaitis has created. It is a testament to her storytelling ability that the more incredible facets she adds, the more concrete this future seems. Jaguar’s reality is one that seems uncomfortably close and terrifyingly possible.

Keep an eye on Jaguar. Keep an even closer eye on Chepaitis; with her talent and drive she may well be the future of science fiction.