B.A. Chepaitis

Ace / 243 pages / 1stĀ edition (January 1, 1998)

ISBN: 0441004970

The good news: in the future, the world will discover a way to end prison overcrowding, and almost wipe out recidivism. The bad news: we have to survive a period of serial murder of epidemic proportions. And you guessed it — not that many of us are going to survive the Killing Times. Come to think of it, overcrowding may not be that much of a problem.

Meet Jaguar Addams, survivor, doctor, and one of the caring “Teachers” on Planetoid Three.

You’ve been shipped to one of the Planetoids, you’re in for a rough rehab, and you’ve been assigned to the toughest Teacher on the payroll. Your Teacher is going to reach into your mind and find what really motivates you; you’re about to face your greatest, deepest fears.

Inmates have two ways out of the program: see the light and come out straight, or come out in a strait jacket. And, a few fall through the cracks. They come out feet first. Not everyone takes well to having their minds touched, their fears brought out into the open.

No one knows how their newest inmate will fare, only that this is the most difficult and sensitive case the staff has faced. In the aftermath of the Year of the Serials, Clare Rilasco remains the most-feared and the most unfathomable of murderers. It is Jaguar’s job to get inside her mind, learn what pushes her to kill. And who.

As Jaguar is about to find out, not everyone wants that information made public knowledge. Not everyone wanted Clare taken alive.

Chepaitis’ debut novel crackles with tension from every side. It is a rough world where only the toughest and the most ruthless have endured. And nobody is going down easy, now.

The settings are grim and brutal, with few bright spots, and even fewer safe havens. It is the product of a civilization that dragged itself into the gutter and isn’t sure how to get out again. Or if it even wants to. Too many of the characters seem content to accept life at this level, so long as they don’t sink too much lower down the food chain. With few descriptions, Chepaitis has created a world of dark streets and darker denizens. And that’s before they return to the ruin that is their home planet.

And, if the surroundings are bleak, the people forced to live their are darker still. Everyone has secrets, and, on a planetoid of empaths, no one is willing to share. The combination makes for some of the edgiest relationships in recent memory.

For a debut novel, The Fear Principle falls into few of the traps waiting in fiction. True, the “loose cannon” character is a simple one to create and drive through a story. Everyone else is either wholly good or irredeemably wicked. And readers may spot some of the revelations from chapters away, but not all, and not most. There are as many surprises lying in wait as assassins.

And Planetoid Three is lousy with assassins; apparently no one checks references in the future. Let that be a lesson to us.