Jumpdrives & Cantrips


Rules of Conflict

Rules of ConflictIt wasn’t all that long ago that 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 via the all-important people in any bureaucracy: the paper pushers. These folks control reality in retrospect, and have the know-how to get to the core of power in a media-driven politically-unstable society. Rules of Conflict ties up many of the dangling threads left from Code of Conduct and explores the intrigues of a document-driven conspiracy.

Jani Kilian is a document examiner whose body, experimentally reconstructed using the alien idomeni as genetic fodder, is failing. Fresh from being exposed anew after hiding from her government nigh on 18 years, she tries to fade into nonexistence again–only her body requires emergency medical treatment that identifies her. Instead of disappearing, the military reclaims her as someone with expertise in the now rapidly destabilizing human-idomeni interactions, but classifies her as mentally unstable. We soon discover Jani ia a pawn in a larger political machination that goes all the way back to her early service days and the idomeni civil war.

While Jani does even less travelling than in the first book, her increased personal freedoms make for a less claustrophobic experience in reading. She has her faults (survivor guilt, a stubborn nature, and a certain amount of disregard for others top the list), but these function to make her depth as a character fascinating and lends more credibility than other cardboard heroines. Smith’s portrayal of Jani’s illness/transformation is a major portion of the book, though Jani’s coping  in this book is limited to the physical realm. Thankfully the book’s science makes sense in a peripheral way and refrains from unneeded medical commentary.

In total this volume probably has less action in terms of “fight scenes” than its predecessor, but the suspense is better constructed and has more even pacing. The exception is the sequence of chapters focusing on Evan, who is under house arrest and in the midst of legal proceedings continuing from the first book. While Evan’s intermittent revelations have importance in the broad political forum eventually, I found he had little relevance as a character other than to sum up data presented elsewhere in a more digestible format. His scenes generally slowed the pace for me, but on the other hand, this functioned as a way to organise the political motivations of others in a less confusing manner than in Code of Conduct.

One of the real gems in Rules of Conflict are Jani’s hallucinations of Neumann, the commanding officer she killed eighteen years ago. He provides some delectably dark humour during Jani’s moments of stress and turmoil as he torments her (or as she torments herself, depending on one’s perspective). Unfortunately, I suspect Jani’s compatriot Lieutenant Pascal is supposed to provide some comic relief in obvious flirtation, but I found his antics as a character to be tiring and not edgy enough to provide enough surprise to function in a similar manner.

Overall, Kristine Smith writes of the need for closure with past trauma, and the need to acknowledge and incorporate changes in the self to an individual. For Jani the past is not left behind her, and is something she must deal with rather than escape from, as she had hoped to do. Smith further opens this up from the individual level to a societal level with the idomeni-human dialogue that takes place in the book, and the tangential mention of reparation. It is a testament to her skill as a writer that the idomeni fully enmesh in the world and retain their alien sense of being “other”. I feel that the idomeni are probably one of the better constructed alien races in military sci-fi and space opera, and will happily read more.

The book itself focuses more on character and suspense in this volume, but forgoes plot to an extent. It feels as though Rules of Conflict functions as an addendum to Code of Conflict–which had enough of an info-dump to require more unpacking. In that sense, it is a transitional novel in the series but succeeded in keeping my attention for the duration of the shift.

Kristine Smith did not drop the ball in her second novel, and I felt she improved on what made Code of Conduct appealing. The flaws in Rules of Conflict are negligible viewed in context of the series itself, and I can see how an omibus edition has definite advantages compared to single volumes in this particular storyline.

Smith, Kristine. Rules of Conflict. Rules of Survival Omnibus Edition. New York: Science Fiction Book Club, 2007. Pp. 307-628. $18.99 (Canadian) via SFBC.

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4 Comments so far
Leave a comment

Great review, Sara. Sounds like a really tight, twisting plot with a heroine who grows through the course of the story.

Comment by Kimber An

Thanks, Kimber! It’s certainly a well-written series, and I think Jani is one of the more interesting protagonists I’ve read in a while for this type of book.

–Sara

Comment by admin

another great review, Sara…but the Deja-vu *gasp* 🙂 check this covers:
http://www.elizabethbear.com/jenny.html

Comment by uroš

Thanks for pointing out the similarity! I actually have the first one in that series. Technically Kristine Smith’s books came out what, 4-5 years earlier? Eh. I just think that that particular design isn’t great anyway. Not bad, but not really good either. 🙂

–Sara

Comment by admin




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