Independent science fiction from the prolific, talented and versatile Modesitt (Imager’s Battalion, 2013, etc.).
Planet Bachman houses many huge corporations that depend on colony world Stittara’s production of anagathics, drugs that have powerful life-prolonging and cosmetic effects. Political expediency requires Stittara to be inspected, and consultant ecologist Dr. Paulo Verano is hired. On the interstellar voyage to Stittara, Verano meets his fellow passengers—most of whom are extraordinarily cagey about their jobs and their reasons for visiting Stittara. Due to unpredictable electrical storms that whip up tornado-force winds, the Stittaran population lives underground. In the upper atmosphere drift skytubes, differentiated clumps of microorganisms whose exact nature remains unknown. Disturbingly, Verano finds that many facts are being concealed or deliberately ignored. Why do the local women find him so irresistibly attractive? Can Ilsabet, the sole survivor of a community destroyed in a storm, really be 400 years old? Certainly she speaks in enigmatic rhymes and has some connection with the skytubes and the storms. Why are there no statistics on birth and death rates? Why does the appearance of vast, inexplicable badlands coincide with the extinction of alien colonies millions of years ago? Why do the numerous outland settlements, independent of the company towns and living in harmony with the planet, appear on no official census? Research complex RDAEX has hired a number of high-energy physicists—to do what, exactly?—and admits to having lost planes while investigating the skytubes. And the more Verano resists the political pressures being brought to bear, the clearer it becomes that somebody—perhaps several somebodies—would prefer to see him dead. Intriguing mysteries, subtle plots, vividly drawn female characters and nuggets of hardheaded wisdom are scattered among the narrative strands.
One of Modesitt’s best, which means, don’t miss it.