Without A Front - The Producer's Challenge

Without A Front - The Producer's Challenge - Fletcher DeLancey When I heard that this book was not very different from the original fanfic version and I had read that already, I thought to myself I was going to skip this for now and at least wait for the last book to come out before starting on this one. But dang, a few pages in and I was hooked, lol. I couldn't stop reading, even knowing that the book won't have an ending.

Plotwise, this is very different from Caphenon. While the first book was predominantly action and thrills, this is more of political maneuvering and one-upmanship, development of an unlikely romance, and a much more detailed look at Alsean life and customs. The pace is more relaxed and sedate. But of course, this is just the calm before the storm. Much of the political fallout has to do with the alien technology gifted by the Gaians to Alsea, specifically the matter-printing technology (e.g. the Star Trek Replicator) This is a stroke of genius actually. I love how the author thought to use the economic ramifications of this technology on Alsea to drive the conflict in this book. The fear that this tech will displace whole castes of producers and craftmen from their livelihood is logical and well-founded.

In this book, we see the Lancer in her peacetime element. From the honorable and ruthless warrior of the first book, we now see the politician side of her in action--a master thinker and communicator. In an effort to diffuse a producer caste revolt, she daringly accepts a challenge to work at a remote farm for a month, throwing up a mountain of logistics nightmares for her bodyguards and advisors. The effort could either be a stroke of genius or political suicide. Out of the chaos blooms a very unlikely attraction. Being empaths, Alseans bondmates can share not just a physical but a mental connection. The latter is even more profound as it can involve a transference of emotions, physical pain and even injury. Theirs is a soulmate-for-life thing. The romantic progression may be all backwards, but I really enjoyed how the author developed the romance that is at once alien and at the same time so universal in its appeal.

In fact, much of the appeal of the book is how easily we relate to the challenges facing the Alseans. The threat of matter-printers displacing ordinary folks is as real as globalization, outsourcing and computerization is to ordinary workers. Political wranglings and noisy fringe groups seizing on their pet causes are as common as the daily news we read. The only difference is that very few (are there any?) of our politicians (anywhere, I might add) have the moral integrity of Lancer Tal to resist the various groups that seek to influence the government for their own selfish objectives. And if there were, they probably wouldn't win an election, lol. Lancer Tal probably wouldn't either, if Alsea were a true democracy. But I digress. :) We love reading about Alsea because they've got all the usual troubles we have, but they actually have someone good enough to solve it. Isn't that what we all aspire to?

4.5 stars

Why not 5 stars? This book does not have the epic sweep and scale, the pulse-pounding and page-turning suspense, or the emotional gravitas of the recurring honor-vs-duty themes from the first book. It's hard to stand next to perfection.