#86 Crapometer

genre: science fiction

Computer expert JOHN BANNON grew up in and works for the Dominion, a powerful democratic empire convinced that its version of freedom is right not only for its own citizens but for all other cultures, if they could only see it. And if they can't see it, perhaps they should be invaded and forced to--the Dominion has the resources to do so, and many of its citizens believe that it should.

While on leave from the government ship he serves on, Bannon encounters a gang of slavers, and finds himself on a journey that is more than physical. Kidnapped to keep him from talking, (about what?) then sold on Palladium, where slavery is accepted, he is initially horrified by and contemptuous of the mores of a society so different from his own. True, his new owner the SENATOR seems surprisingly kind and civilised, and Bannon has known worse employers as a free man. But Bannon's ship crew training covered the possibility of hijacking. He knows all about Stockholm syndrome, and is determined not to succumb.

However, things are not that simple. He becomes aware that the Senator too knows about Stockholm syndrome and is using it to subvert him. But the Senator, though brought up to accept slavery, is working to improve the conditions and protection of slaves through the law; and the advanced technical expertise Bannon brings from the Dominion can help him frustrate the machinations of his political opponents.

At first, Bannon co-operates simply because he sees no harm in doing so. But when he learns the worst of what the Senator is fighting, he willingly offers his wholehearted help and support. Bannon is not the only slave on the Senator's staff; MICHAEL, the Senator's bodyguard and
right hand man, is one of a group of clones. When Bannon realises that Michael is different to his brothers, (you’re different from, not different to) the Senator explains that they were manufactured on a planet where clones are considered disposable tools. The others have been genetically modified for docility; Michael is from an earlier batch now considered faulty, and could be returned to the factory for disposal in part-exchange for the newer model.

Bannon has learnt that in Palladium's culture slaves are people, with restricted rights but strict legal protections. There are, however, those on Palladium who would prefer their slaves to be mere equipment, their absolute property, and Michael's clone group was imported by one such person. The Senator is one of the most formidable political opponents of this faction, and is a man whom Bannon knows he would have admired and wanted to help if he'd met him under other circumstances. It becomes ever more difficult for him to distinguish between Stockholm syndrome and genuine respect for the Senator.

Adding to Bannon's problems, he comes from a sensually repressed society, while Palladium is unrestrained by his standards. There is a side of Bannon which has not been allowed to find expression in the Dominion but which he could express freely in Palladium--if only he could overcome the lifelong conditioning that tells him he ought not to.

The Senator in turn finds that conditioning as abhorrent as Bannon does slavery. He's determined to free Bannon from the barriers in his mind, without realizing just how different their two cultures are. His initial attempts at sex are disastrous, because he does not understand that to Bannon this is rape. But there are practical reasons why he should persist, and they manage to negotiate a relationship that presents an acceptable master-slave appearance to Palladium society without further traumatising Bannon.

this is getting tres kinky.

Bannon, torn between both personal and political loyalties, is forced to rethink the nature of freedom and see that a "good man" does not necessarily act in one society as he would in another. And he comes to realise that he is genuinely drawn to the Senator, both emotionally and physically, by his own nature as much as by Stockholm conditioning. Still desperate to go home, he no longer sees home in the same way.

Ultimately he must choose between two cultures, aware now that both have flaws and offer different freedoms. And he must make his choice knowing that whatever path he chooses will have repercussions for Palladium. The Dominion is intent on eliminating slavery, and the Senator's purchase of an abducted Dominion government employee could provide an excuse to invade Palladium, even though Palladium is far from the worst of the slave-holding cultures.

Bannon's choice, to go with his ship's captain come to rescue him, and plead Palladium's case to the Dominion military, shifts the balance in favour of negotiation. There is popular support for an invasion of a slave-holder planet, but the Dominion's intelligence service believes that supporting Palladium's liberal faction will take longer but offers a better prospect of permanent change. The Palladium government is already trying to improve the behaviour of its slave-holding neighbours through diplomatic and economic pressure, so Intelligence are (is) willing to consider providing help to their Palladium counterparts--and Bannon is offered the chance to return as one of the intelligence liaison staff in the new Dominion Embassy. Such a move will change his relationship with the Senator forever, but if he's willing to gamble everything, he could win everything. As the novel closes, he realises that he has no choice but to go back to Palladium, and the man he loves.

The novel is complete in itself, but leaves open the question of whether the Dominion will use Palladium as an example to others, or as an opportunity to negotiate. It also leaves open the fact that Bannon will be required to spy on his friend as well as help him. Bannon must also
come to terms with his feelings for his captain, repressed until now. This provides a hook for a sequel in which to deal with the unfinished business of both the political relationships between the governments, and the personal relationships between the characters.

Well, the politics is a little heavy handed but then so was Robert Heinlein’s. I’d try to crisp up the writing here (ie chop up most of those long ass sentences) to give it some energy, but you’ve got the basics of a good synopsis here.


Bernita said...

He's outed Canada's plot to take over the world.

Anonymous said...

Actually, I was being rude about the Victorian British Empire. :-)

Thanks for the comments, Miss Snark - much appreciated. I think a couple of the minor points mentioned are differences between British and American English, which does make me wonder if I need to explicitly mention being British when submitting to US markets.

The Green Cedar said...

I'd write "Intelligence are", too. :-)

May have been rude about the Victorian British empire, but it sure makes me think of present-day political messes.

Anonymous said...

That doesn't excuse "different to". It's "different from" in Britain :).