This third volume of a space station series reinvigorates a familiar villain and introduces new allies.
The medical space station Nelson Mandela serves the Union of Solar Systems by repairing and upgrading soldiers who have animal adaptations. After once again halting the deranged plans of Dr. Jeffrey Nestor, Dr. Grace Lord and the handsome, devoted android Bud no doubt deserve room to develop their friendship. Grace’s boss, the indefatigable Dr. Hiro Al-Fadi, believes otherwise and demands that she not encourage Bud’s romantic leanings. Elsewhere on the station, the sentient Plant Thing that’s merged with Dr. Eric Glasgow begins experimenting on its own by creating Little Bud, a humanoid plant capable of walking the corridors and shocking Nelson Mandela’s already colorful denizens. Dr. Mikhail Lewandowski, meanwhile, needs to examine Hiro’s mind for any lingering posthypnotic suggestions of violence from Nestor, creator of mind-link therapy. A more direct threat is the ship Inferno, captained by the suspiciously monikered Danté Alighieri, who wants to dock with the station and bring aboard six crew members suffering from a mysterious virus. And if Grace’s life wasn’t complicated enough, she stumbles across an injured man in stasis named Alexander Grayson Lord. Will she be able to focus on saving lives when an explosion strikes the Nelson Mandela? Sasaki’s (Bud by the Grace of God, 2016, etc.) third installment of the Grace Lord series, with its large and varied cast, hits many of the high notes from the previous volumes. But this time, a series of vicious murders overshadows the scientific aspects of the narrative, creating more of a thriller atmosphere. Plant Thing proves an indelible character through whom the author explores how something or someone’s appearance skews perceptions of the entity’s essential being. The relationship between two tiger-adapted Marines, Capt. Damien Lamont and Cpl. Delia Chase, is bittersweet and grounded by dramatic war visuals (“Black shrapnel and ash were raining down, a dark contrast to the brilliant electric streaks of deadly laser fire”). Though Sasaki revisits numerous motifs, she pumps such joy and energy into her world that it’s impossible to fly past without visiting.
Fresh intelligence, danger, and complexity await sci-fi fans.