More time flying the lovely flies with Southwest “You hate us, but we’re cheap” Airlines means more time reading sweet delicious fluff — in this case, James Alan Gardner’s Trapped . But “fluff” is really an unfair term, here, because (like Duncan, Bujold, and Pratchett) Gardner manages to have the compulsive readability that’s a must for airline reading without sacrificing quality.
Trapped is set in the same League of Peoples universe as his other novels, but isn’t a direct sequel to any of them. (Shockingly, it doesn’t even involve Gardner’s favorite character, Admiral Festina Ramos.) The entire book takes place on Earth, now a primitive backwater isolated from galactic civilization. So primitive is Earth, in fact, that this has some of the feel of a science-fantasy novel, with nanotech “sorcery”, prophecies, swordfights and so forth. Only some of the feel, though; Gardner is too much the science fiction writer to give you magic and have you fill in the Clarke’s Law gaps yourself, so the scientific underpinnings of seemingly supernatural events are explained in detail.
If the setting never quite makes it to fantasy, though, the plot does. Our Plucky Band of Heroes is prophesied up a Quest, and after suspicious happenings, embark upon it. It sounds clichéd, but the Plucky Band being composed of middle-aged second-rate teachers makes it decidedly different from the standard coming of age story.
Having said all these nice things, I’m now going to be all weasely, because there was one major problem with the book, common to prophecy-plot novels: Things felt scripted. The characters did this, then this, then this, then this, and then you find out that’s exactly what they were fated to do the whole time, which makes it all rather pointless. Gardner seems to have the same problem, as one of his characters tries to give an explanation of why things aren’t as divinely-ordained as they seem, and why the sacrifices and choices that the characters made really were meaningful and worth it, but I didn’t quite buy it. Not a fatal flaw for me, but someone like Trent, who found Expendable to be too god-rigged, would utterly hate this book.
So, Trent: Avoid it. Everyone else: Read Gardner’s other stuff first, and if you like that, don’t avoid this. Me: Move along to the next Gardner quite happily.