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Expendable    by James Alan Gardner order for
by James Alan Gardner
Order:  USA  Can
Eos, 1997 (1997)
Hardcover, Paperback

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* *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

James Alan Gardner's Expendable stars Explorer Corps member Festina Ramos, one of a set of misfits selected at birth for intelligence combined with something in their appearance that makes them unappealing to others. The Explorer Corps has a high mortality rate, but the loss of these self-styled Expendable Crew Members is not believed to be as detrimental to morale as would the deaths of their more attractive crewmates.

It's a universe in which an extremely powerful League of Peoples bars from space travel any non-sentient (any individual or race that demonstrates they do not hold life sacred). So when the powers that be in the Technocracy want to rid themselves of embarrassments - such as senile Admirals - they dispatch the unwanted, along with an Explorer team, to unexplored Melaquin. While rumors abound about this Earthlike 'planet of no return' that 'looks perfect for colonization', there are few facts to explain what makes it so deadly.

Now, Festina Ramos and her partner Yarrun Derigha have been ordered to Melaquin by the Admiralty High Council, along with Admiral Chee, whose quirky language and eccentric behavior is one of the highlights of the story. Soon after landing, Festina finds herself alone, exploring a world more like Earth than Earth itself. But it has inhabitants - unusually transparent ones, isolated from each other. Festina makes contact, finds ways to use the technology that supports them, and explores a world full of surprises.

Though I found the premise - of societal consent to withholding medical treatments from damaged children - unlikely, the story is well done in the classic SF style. There are plenty of delightfully colorful characters, regular touches of humor (like the Explorers' expectation of Going Oh Shit), well-developed technology, and a very satisfying conclusion that comes full circle for the proud heroine.

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