Book Review: Finder

Suzanne Palmer
DAW Books, NY
Copyright 2019 by the author

Fergus Ferguson is what he calls a “Finder”. According to the book jacket copy, that means he’s a sort of interstellar repo man – with all the survival, “jack of all trades”, con man, and MacGyvering skills that entails.

His current job has him recovering a stolen spaceship of the latest design. He’s tracked it to the Cernekan (“Cernee”, for short) system, where before he can even settle in he survives being an incidental bystander to what turns out to be a politically-motivated murder. Which, by the way, turns out to be the opening salvo in a power grab by one of the local big shots in the system.

Now, he’s got to follow the book jacket copy and get caught up in the lives and politics of Cernee’s residents – and deal with the enigmatic aliens hanging around the place – if he wants to succeed.

Suzanne Palmer has a couple of awards and citations on her mantle; this is her first novel. And it’s a doozy! The setting is one I’ve never come across before. Cernee is a collection of habitats, space stations, and mined-out asteroids, all connected by a network of cables that (in addition to presumably keeping them all together) allow for mass transit by cable car between them.

It’s nice to see a story where the fate of the universe / Earth / humanity doesn’t hang in the balance. All that’s on the table here is the fate of one small solar system out in the boondocks. Critical to the people who live there, naturally, but to anyone else, it will be a blip on their news feeds.

The characters, other than Ferguson, are pretty flat. No one really comes to life. Heck, I can’t even recall anything about their physical appearance! Ferguson is tall, with red hair and a beard – and you only remember that because a) he has trouble finding spacesuits/clothing that fits, and b) it makes him stand out from everyone else.

The uniqueness of the setting really doesn’t come into play much, either. Once Ferguson makes it to the capital for the “accident” investigation, the cable cars pretty much vanish from the story. Travel between the modules is by individual transportation devices, which seem to be readily available on each module. And there’s no idea of the “scale” of the place. The murder takes place on a cable route between adjacent modules, which are far enough apart for the bad guys to create an “accident” without anyone at either end seeing them. But all subsequent trips between modules seem to take no time at all. In fact, travel times are brought up so rarely, you’d think that these modules were as close as buildings in the same condo complex. Really, the novelty of the setting doesn’t really come into play at all. For all it’s importance to the story, they could be islands in an ocean or settlements in a hostile landscape.

But that’s all nitpicking that’s not relevant to the story. It’s like complaining about Larry Niven’s Ringworld because he forgot to mention how the place deals with erosion. What Palmer has here is a whiz-bang action adventure tale that carries you along in the excitement and its fun protagonist. So the secondary characters are one-dimensional? Big deal; Ferguson is there to get a job done. Making long-term relationships is irrelevant to him, so he (and the reader) doesn’t need to know any more about them than needed. If Ferguson seems to pull a macguffin out of his hat to get him out of a scrape, well, he’s shown himself to be fully capable of doing so, and all the stuff he needs for it was introduced well in advance. OK, making the anti-mine gadgets out of tennis balls, foil wrapping paper, and sex toys was a bit much…. Still, what you’ve got here brings to mind the good old optimistic space opera that we don’t get enough of anymore.

One other thing I liked about Finder is that it’s self-contained. Yes, Ferguson has a very interesting history that could be fun to explore, but when the novel comes to a conclusion, there are essentially no loose ends to tie up. True, Cernee will need a lot of fixing up, but (happily, and unusually) the governor of the system is fully competent and not corrupt – no need for Ferguson to hang around. So many novels these days are parts of series that it’s refreshing to see a stand-alone novel, where there’s nothing left hanging at the end to scream “SEQUEL COMING!” at you…..

Finder (The Finder Chronicles #1) Hardcover – April 2, 2019
by Suzanne Palmer (Author)
4.4 out of 5 stars 34 customer reviews


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