A while back, Trent Goulding said he was bothered by the arbitrary alien-god rules in Expendable; I wasn’t, but in James Alan Gardner’s Radiant , I started to get a bit Gouldingian myself.

The basic setup is this: If you cause someone to die, the League of Peoples will kill you if you try to leave the planet. So, no murdering, obviously; but also no criminal neglect of your safety inspector job, and no appointing an unqualified person to head FEMA. So, of course, the interesting thing is that these are all-powerful aliens, and you can’t exactly use technicalities to get around their godlike judgment, so you have to be awfully damn serious about not letting people die. Up until now, Gardner’s managed to make that a plausible part of the setting, the bit you just accept to get to your puzzle plot. But here, he uses it to drive the action in a really obtrusive, and frankly implausible, way. (This is a bit spoilery, but it really seems to me that dropping what you’re doing, commandeering a spaceship, and rushing off to a planet where you put yourself in enormous personal danger, on the off chance that there might be some survivors to rescue, should really count as “above and beyond” not “minimum necessary to stay alive”.)

Fortunately, he redeems himself a bit, because it turns out that this book takes us closer to exploring the motivation of the god-aliens, what Vinge called “applied theology”. Since the book is still narrated by a human, we don’t end up seeing exactly what the god-aliens are doing, but we catch enough glimpses to get a sense that there’s a larger story underlying Gardner’s sequence of novels, and that it’s beginning to open up a bit. I’m intrigued. And even if I wasn’t, this is still good enough as pure action-adventure SF to let me overlook an obtrusive plot-wheel here and there.


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