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Second Chances    by Susan Shwartz order for
Second Chances
by Susan Shwartz
Order:  USA  Can
Tor, 2002 (2001)
Hardcover, Paperback
* *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Susan Shwartz is one of the rare authors who can write both fantasy and hard science fiction well. In Second Chances, she gives us military science fiction, with two main characters. One of them is a Four Feathers type - an idealistic soldier, Jim, who spends his life attempting to atone for a single act of cowardice at a critical juncture. The other, Cam Marlow, is an older comrade of his, now 'the worlds' oldest shipsicle'. She just spent twenty years in deep freeze, whose effects have derailed her career.

In a sense, the title applies to the worlds in which the tale is set as much as to the characters who live in them. A war between Alliance and Secess' worlds has just ended, peace being made 'because they couldn't afford to go on killing and being killed, and force humanity to retreat to planet-bound barbarism.' The military, in particular Fleet, is unpopular with civs which makes Jim's tour of duty on the Irian Jaya particularly difficult. Then Jim's dreams of heroics and glory are sabotaged by a baser instinct for survival.

After his trial, Jim plays out a death wish on different worlds and Foreign Legion-like outposts in space. Each time he does hazardous duty until his past catches up with him and he flees once more. Cam leaves Fleet but obtains a Captain's position in the Relief Service (from which she rescues Jim on several occasions) and tries to hold her health together. Then comes the offer of a role for Jim that will give him back his self respect and allow a degree of rehabilitation, if only in his own eyes.

Second Chances has a brilliant beginning and the author has set it in a fascinating and complex universe. While I found Jim's self-hatred became a little tiresome towards the end, Cam's character continued to engage my sympathy and made the book a very satisfying read.

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