I’m off still working on other stuff so you get three retro reviews, all from 2009, of the contents of S. Andrew Swann’s Hostile Takeover omnibus. (I actually read these all twice in their original paperback incarnation.)
Spoilers obviously lay ahead.
Nature abhors a vacuum, and governments abhor competition. The loosely welded Terran Confederation is starting to show some strains, and some of its blocs think things would be better if something was done about the anarchic planet of Bakunin. Existing outside of the Confederation, it’s a place that allows everything the Confederation doesn’t including the “heretical” technologies of nanotechnology, genetic engineering, and artificial intelligence. Everything except a central state.
To Bakunin comes Colonel Dacham, officer of the Terran Executive Command – the real power in the Confederacy, an organization routinely willing to kill thousands to preserve the governments of its members. In tow are several Confederation Marines under his command. What the TEC wants on Bakunin is unclear. But Dacham’s personal motives aren’t. He wants to destroy Dominic Magnus, a local arms dealer, and anybody working for him. And one of those marines is increasingly uncomfortable with the lengths he’s willing to go – in an already legally unprecedented operation – to do so.
Throw in a computer hacker caught up in the TEC’s mission of destruction, a bored alien looking to put his encyclopedia knowledge of space navies to use, a safecracking lawyer and ex-revolutionary, a junkyard operator and his robot, and you have most of the cast. Again, Swann exhibits a near-perfect sense of pace in his tale of political intrigue and military action that, in its final phase, turns out to be a heist plot. Swann stretches his revelations out just long enough build suspense and doesn’t try our patience by trying to hide mysteries the reader has already guessed.
But the real star here is Bakunin, the setting. It’s not an anarchic, libertarian utopia. It’s full of extortion rackets, violent religions, street punks, and mercs. But it does plausibly, if violently, work after its own fashion. Along with Donald Westlake’s Anarchaos, it’s one of science fiction’s most vivid anarchies.
The chapter headings and epigrams, real and fictitious, are also a big reason I like this series, like it enough to re-read it.
The Hostile Takeover trilogy takes place after Swann’s moreau books, but you don’t have to read them first. However, I have a feeling that the ties between this series and Swann’s new series that opened with Prophets: Apotheosis will be more significant.
After putting his brother Dominic Magnus out of business – and unsuccessfully trying to kill him, Colonel Klaus Dacham of the TEC initiates the second part of Operation Rasputin: forcibly bringing the anarchic world of Bakunin into the human polity of the Confederacy. But while ending, at the point of a gun, Bakunin’s days as a haven for smugglers, tax evaders, and revolutionaries seems like a great idea, it may tear the Confederacy apart.
Swann throws in new – and soon separated – lovers Dominic and Tetsami, alien artifacts new and old, fearsome nantechnology and transhumans, and time travel into the mix of political intrigue, chases, vivid violence, and clever chapter titles.
To be sure, at one point, Swann comes perilously near too convenient coincidence in his plot when a desperate rescue mission is mounted into the wilds of Bakunin to keep Tetsumi out of the grips of a mercenary army. And, while Swann does a credible job with his technology and describing the nanotechnology spookiness of the Proteus Commune – which makes even Bakunites a bit nervous, this isn’t primarily a work of new or breathtaking scientific ideas and speculations. However, he continues to create a credible anarchist society with Bakunin. What Swann offers is adventure and intrigue and mysteries from the past and terrors in the future. Unlike the first novel in the series, primarily a heist story, this one has more variety in its plot and scenes.
It is, still, the middle book of a trilogy. And, while definitely worth reading, you should first start with Profiteer.
In the conclusion of the trilogy, protagonist Dominic Magnus realizes the Terran Executive Command’s plan to bring the anarchical planet of Bakunin forcibly into the Confederacy can’t be defeated on the ground. It must be defeated politically and at the heart of the Confederacy — the diplomatic quarters on Earth. First, though, he must avoid capture by his crazed brother Klaus and run the blockade of Bakunin.
And, if that wasn’t enough to worry about, he finds himself agonizing over Kari Tetsami when she’s shot up by a TEC prisoner, wondering if he can trust his ally Random Walk — an intelligent robot who is also a master manipulator, and learning a Dacham family secret.
This story held up as well on a second reading as it did when it first came out. Swann throws everything into this book: espionage, superscience, political intrigue, straight up military combat, romance, and a family drama. All the plots are ably wrapped up in an emotionally satisfying – if not always happy – way from the fate of the Confederacy and its chief secret policeman, Dimitri Olmanov, to the future of human colonization of space, the superscience of the Proteus Commune, the guilt of Shane the deserter, and the troubled relationship of Dominic and Tetsami.
Swann never stumbles in his story though it threatens to wobble a bit during the Proteus bits. He throws in some sections clearly designed to sum up the story of the preceding books for those who haven’t read them. However, the very numbering of the novel’s parts indicates it’s not truly self-contained, and I wouldn’t attempt reading the series out of order.