cover image Crucible


Nancy Kress. Tor Books, $24.95 (384pp) ISBN 978-0-7653-0688-3

Kress's idea-packed sequel to Crossfire (2003) carries several leading characters and conflicts some 39 years farther into the future of a distant human colony. To settle the planet Greentrees, Jake Holman, now aged and feeble, has brought diverse groups: the huge Cutler clan, Arabs, Chinese, New Quakers, Cheyennes. The dissident Chinese city Hope of Heaven seethes with antagonism toward Mira City, where Alexandra Cutler as""tray-o,"" the Technology Resources Allocation officer, serves as one of the executive triumvirate. When a ship arrives from a devastated Earth, Alex falls prey to its charismatic captain, Julian Martin, whose suave exterior cloaks a formidable and ruthless will to power worthy of Rome's first Caesar. Martin's Machiavellian manipulation of Mira City's naive citizenry, including Alex, soon easily makes him its dictator. Meanwhile, in space on a daring attempt to defuse the aggressive humanoid Furs' ability to wage war, Karim Mahjoub and Lucy Lasky are captured by the alien plantlike Vines. A highly complex plot, intricately interwoven motivations and a constantly shifting focus detract from the novel's pace, while characterizations and dialogue occasionally appear superficial or predictable. Nonetheless, Kress's inventive juxtaposition of cultures and political systems and her sympathetic treatment of minority viewpoints offer much food for thought. FYI: Kress's short fiction has won Hugo and Nebula awards.