Jumpdrives & Cantrips

Code of Conduct

Code of ConductI didn’t manage to catch the Jani Kilian books when they first came out in paperback. Instead, I’ve been reading Rules of Survival, the SFBC omnibus edition of the series’ first 3 books, the first of which is Code of Conduct. Author Kristine Smith began her writing career with this series, which has been described as mystery or even “noir” science fiction. It’s a fair way to sum up the gist of the book, certainly.

Code of Conduct starts with Jani Kilian concealing her past by working as a paper pusher on one of Earth’s colonial planets. We soon find out that she was a captain in Earth’s diplomatic corps, and survived a bloody civil war amongst the alien idomeni only due to a medically questionable patch-job using alien genetic materials. Unfortunately for Jani, two things change her situation. The first kicks off the action: the government finds her as her cover is blown, and when on the verge of escape the Interior Minister–and her former lover–leverages Jani into solving the mysteries surrounding his wife’s death. The second is a slow and occasional theme, following the beginning of Jani’s body’s failure/transformation to a blending of idomeni and human.

Jani is a fascinating woman, and it’s her along with the well-characterized secondary characters that really carry the novel through. She’s cynical, tough, and has the savvy to cross the boundaries of clashing societies–human and idomeni, as well as the varying class stratification within human social groups. She serves as a patchwork human: Frankenstein made alien and genetic. Her past gives her an air of mystery, which isn’t fully unravelled by the end of the book.

The plot starts off with a bang, then slows with the journey to Earth and Jani’s investigation. For having a protagonist who is a diplomatic expert and a world where Earth controls numerous space colonies, the story is almost claustrophobic. This adds to the tension, but be aware that the action comes in short bursts at the beginning and end of the story, with a lot more talking and investigating in the middle portion. This book is not designed as an action-packed suspense novel; the majority of it meanders along with an exploratory bent.

Rules of SurvivalIn fact, I very much enjoyed Kristine Smith’s writing despite a couple of problems that took away from the story. The plot itself is confusing to an extent and leaves a lot of ambiguity. At points Jani hallucinates dead colleagues, and occasionally this back history felt like it was dumped on without any context, and sometimes questionable significance. I didn’t get the sense that all of these ambiguities were red herrings (though some likely were), but rather that some plot points were a little sloppy or not fully planned out. I also wasn’t clear on what motivated certain characters–sometimes a good thing in a mystery, but when it’s most of the big players (not including Jani, who is always well put together, even if her body isn’t), it gets a little tiresome.

However, the most disappointing part of this book was the worldbuilding. I felt like we didn’t really get to go anywhere of note because Smith wasn’t really sure where to take us, and hadn’t really fleshed out the idomeni and human history beyond the bare, bare essentials. I wasn’t convinced of the need for document readers and couldn’t figure what the mess of various governmental agencies seemed to actually do, though granted that’s a question I have in real life regardless. The cultural milieu didn’t fully jive for me in the human end of things, even though the idomeni worked exceptionally well. I also got the sense that Kristine Smith did a lot of background work, but that it didn’t necessarily find its way into the novel in quite the right places.

Kristine Smith’s Code of Conduct is a very well done first novel in a series, and I’m looking forward to the next few books, though hoping to get a little more of the world-mystery solved. I’m very interested to see where Smith’s writing has gone in the next few books, and certainly hope that the human-idomeni aspect of Jani’s body gets fleshed out more in successive books.

Smith, Kristine. Code of Conduct. Rules of Survival Omnibus Edition. New York: Science Fiction Book Club, 2007. Pp. 1-306. $18.99 (Canadian) via SFBC.


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I found your site on google blog search and read a few of your other posts. Keep up the good work. Just added your RSS feed to my feed reader. Look forward to reading more from you.

– Randy Nichols.

Comment by Randy Nichols

Hey Randy, thanks for the compliments! Things are actually a little slower around the blog this last little while due to a combination of increased hours at work the past few weeks (to be ending after next week, I hope) and computer silliness. So hopefully everything’ll even out in the next little while 🙂


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[…] I reviewed Kristine Smith’s first book in the Jani Kilian series, Code of Conduct (read it here). Rules of Survival is a similar style of story–science fiction with an investigative focus […]

Pingback by Jumpdrives and Cantrips » Blog Archive » Rules of Conflict

[…] for another dose of Kristine Smith’s Jani Kilian! As you may recall, I recently reviewed the first and second books in this science fiction/mystery hybrid series. Law of Survival is the third book […]

Pingback by Jumpdrives and Cantrips » Blog Archive » Law of Survival

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