Another of Foster's yarns set in the Commonwealth, an alliance of humans, giant-insect–like thranx, and other species (Reunion, 2001, etc., but this time not featuring Flinx and company) whose influence is constantly under challenge from the reptilian AAnn and their burgeoning empire. Planet Fluva is hot, very wet, jam-packed with dangerous beasts and strange growths—and thus a treasure house of biochemical products. When xenophobic, irascible explorer Shadrach Hasselemoga vanishes on a routine biological prospecting trip, the Commonwealth's Chief Administrator, Lauren Matthias, organizes a rescue mission. This comprises Jemunu-Jah, one of the semi-barbaric, apelike natives, and Masurathoo, a double-trunked Deyzara, one of a timid, acquisitive species that immigrated along with the Commonwealth and established commercial networks. The rescuers, too, disappear without a trace. (Actually, they were sabotaged, and must buddy up with Hasselemoga to survive.) Meanwhile, Aniolo-Jat, leader of a Sakuntala faction that advocates the removal of all Deyzara, begins a bid for power: the aim is to kill hundreds of the most influential Deyzara—if they slaughter too many Deyzara, the Commonwealth will intervene—intimidate the others, and take control. Soon, Matthias and her staff are swamped by terrified, desperate Deyzara refugees. Could the Sakuntala uprising be connected with the disappearance of Hasselemoga and his rescuers? And what mischief are the AAnn plotting?
A Cold War–style superpower confrontation-by-proxy, tricked out in weird-alien garb: no prizes for style, but satisfyingly substantial.