cover image SECOND CHANCES


Susan Shwartz, . . Tor, $24.95 (384pp) ISBN 978-0-312-87342-4

Although better known for fantasies such as the Byzantine Cross and Crescent, Shwartz returns to her roots with this solid military space opera influenced by Conrad's Lord Jim. Shwartz's Jim is an Alliance weapons officer without a proper mission, like so many other spacers after the devastating Secess' war and its ambiguous conclusion. Loaned out to a civilian ship carrying valuable biological specimens—eggs, sperm, zygotes and cryo-slept "shipsicles"—Jim struggles with an unfamiliar chain-of-command and a distressingly mercenary crew. When piratical scavengers attack the ship, Jim's heroic actions are nullified by a single bad decision that brands him as a deserter and coward. Fortunately, Commander Caroline Marlow, a fish out of water herself thanks to decades as a shipsicle after suffering a serious war wound, helps Jim find work on a distant world where he can avoid the limelight. When Jim's selfless actions in a crisis draw unwanted attention, he runs again, taking an even worse post on a plague ship responsible for dealing with quarantined vessels. Jim's circuitous route to restore his personal honor is long, and at times his guilt-tripping becomes more annoying than sympathetic. Shwartz's detailed setting and lively pace, however, will hold readers' attention throughout this lengthy examination of guilt and heroism. Fans of the military SF series of Elizabeth Moon, Lois Bujold McMaster and David Feintuch are bound to enjoy this novel. (Aug. 20)