Emissaries from the Dead, by Adam-Troy Castro (Eos, 2008)

Somewhere in deep interstellar space, the enigmatic faction of machine intelligences known as the AISource have constructed a monumentally huge habitat designated One One One, which they’ve filled with a bizarre, near-uninhabitable ecosystem and a collection of engineered species. Of chief interest among these species are the Brachiators, a sentient, violent race inhabiting the topmost portion of the habitat, dwelling among the Undergrowth, a tangle of knotty vines clinging to the interior station axis. Recently, the AISource revealed the existence of this sentient race they’d brought into being, and allowed a small delegation of humans to come to One One One to study them. Things were quiet. Until now. Now there’s been a murder among the humans, and all indications point to AISource sabotage.

Andrea Cort, Counselor and special investigator for the Diplomatic Corps, a frighteningly intelligent, fiercely anti-social woman whose entire waking existence is dedicated to the job, has been diverted to One One One to look into the murder — make that murders, for a second has just occurred — with one very specific instruction: find a scapegoat, and under no circumstances must the AISource be found at fault. Because humanity and the other space-faring races can’t afford a war with beings as omnipresent, powerful, and untouchable as the artificial intelligences. Andrea Cort is determined to find the true culprit, and her investigation leads her into a complicated mess of personal relationships, corruption, emotional trauma and complex undertones, as she discovers just what sort of people have been assigned to One One One, including Stuart Gibb, the man in charge, Peyrin Lastogne, a special consultant, and Skye and Oscin Porrinyard, a couple linked by technology to become one person in two bodies. Someone on One One One is a murderer, and Andrea may be the next victim. But what answers will she find here, not just in relation to the killings, but to the mysteries of her own past? And what role does the AISource have to play? Andrea Cort’s finding a lot more than she bargained on One One One, and it’ll either kill her, or set her free.

Emissaries From The Dead is an oddly compelling tale blending a fascinating science fiction setting with psychological suspense, wrapped around a murder mystery. At its heart, it’s the story of a woman broken in childhood, who’s dragged kicking and screaming back into speaking terms with her long-lost social graces, as Andrea Cort’s forced to deal with a lifetime of issues and strong convictions in a setting that has no time or patience for them. She’s a strange character, a socially inept blunt instrument who finds her usual ways thwarted by the equally broken personalities littering One One One and the manipulative forces of the AISource, as well as those few people who genuinely want to help her. It’s also about the investigation, which is nowhere near open and shut, right from the start.

I enjoyed the setting of One One One. It’s a memorably strange place, an artificial habitat that’s a dangerous, almost entirely hostile environment, where certain death is just one misstep away, and it made for great atmosphere. The Brachiators were appropriately alien in their own way, and from what the story hints and shows of non-human cultures and intelligences, it’s clear that Adam-Troy Castro’s got a diverse universe all planned out, one which deserves further exploration.

Overall, this is a very cerebral story, with long passages of character interaction interspersed by brief action scenes, as we delve into the traumatic events which forged Andrea Cort into the woman she is today, and follow her attempts to get to the truth. There’s a lot of talking, and a lot of clues dropped and found along the way, culminating in a lengthy bit near the end where she reveals everything she knows in a series of back and forths with various individuals as a way of putting together the large picture. It makes for interesting reading, but at the same time, it does feel oddly subdued, and I suspect that there may have been a few leaps of logic made along the way, even though many of the clues were there all along, for those caring to go back and look.

The bottom line, however, is that Adam-Troy Castro has crafted a fascinating tale, with a strong, memorable lead, and he’s placed the action in an intriguing setting that could only be possible in this genre. I look forward to seeing more from him, set in this universe, and following the tenacious Andrea Cort and her newfound companions.

Originally reviewed for SF Site, 2008

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>