cover image Expendable


James Alan Gardner. Eos, $6.99 (352pp) ISBN 978-0-380-79439-3

Gardner's impressive debut novel has an intriguing premise: in a society whose members expect to die of old age, certain deaths are considered more disturbing than others. ""If the victim was popular, well-liked, and above all, physically attractive, fellow crewmates took the death hard.... But if the victim was not so well-liked, and above all, ugly, well, bad things happen, but we all have to carry on."" Festina Ramos, born with a port-wine stain covering most of her face, is a member of the Explorer Corps, who are all bright and capable, but born with some disfigurement or handicap. Their job is to land on hostile planets, to make first contact with alien cultures--a mission they don't usually survive. Festina and her partner, Yarrun (missing the left side of his face), are assigned to escort a banished admiral to Melanquin, a planet where a number of Explorers have been ""lost."" All three realize this is meant to be their last mission--but Festina has other plans. Gardner's fully realized characters and situations, convincing science and entertaining style will have readers anticipating his next effort. (July)