Suzanne Palmer’s 2019 Finder is a science fiction novel.
Humanity has escaped the Earth and the Solar System and has spread across the Milky Way. It’s a grand, romantic era … in the midst of which Fergus Ferguson has an unromantic job. He is a modern-day repo man, tracking down and recovering items that have not been paid for.
The quest for a starship misappropriated by Arum Gilger leads Fergus to Cernekan, a meh system midway between nowhere remarkable and no place special. Cernekan is about to become an interesting place, and the unfortunate Fergus will play a central role in that transformation.
Chance places Fergus in the same intersystem transport pod as Mattie “Mother” Vahn, matriarch of the Vahn clan. Mother Vahn and her clan have long clashed with Arum Gilger and his fellow Faithers. The Faithers regard the Vahns as clones, whom/which they believe are soulless abominations that should be exterminated. The Vahns would prefer not to be murdered.
Gilger’s agents plant a bomb on the pod transporting Fergus and Mother Vahn. Fergus survives. Mother Vahn does not. Snagged from the wreckage by Vahn’s grieving relatives, Fergus discovers that the attack on Mother Vahn was the first shot in a system-wide civil war. Gilger believes that bold action will allow him to crush all of his rivals and take control of the system. Whether this is true or not is unclear. What is clear is that Gilger and his fellow Faithers will kill a lot of innocent people before the war is over.
Picking sides in a civil war in a system in which one has only just arrived may seem imprudent, but Fergus has a horse in this race. He was near to being collateral damage, to which he takes strong exception. It’s also his job: Gilger is in possession of the stolen starship it is Fergus’ duty to recover. Picking the correct side in this war appears quite straightforward.
Of course, that was before the all-powerful aliens arrived in-system.
I read this when I did because of the cover art. Also because having read Scott’s Finders, I wanted to finish all of the books with similar titles in my TBR pile (my Mount Tsundoku). (I should note, parenthetically, that this compulsion is in no way an indication of deep-seated personal issues.) What I discovered: Finder and Finders are both are space operas written by women, featuring relatable, likeable characters. Otherwise they’re totally different.
Quibble: mid-novel, Fergus and his pals take on a side quest on Mars. While I understand that the mechanisms of interstellar travel are determined by the narrative needs of the author, it was surprisingly trivial for Fergus and company to leg it to Mars and back. I don’t know why the excursion bothered me, but it did.
Now you may be wondering: if getting from the Solar System to Cernekan is so easy and so fast, why didn’t the other inhabitants of Cernekan (the ones who were not in thrall to Gilger) appeal to Earth for help? The text suggests some answers:
It is a very very large galaxy, and Earth cannot possibly take an interest in every interstellar crossroads.
The people running Earth are the sort of people who only take an interest in places out of which they can squeeze money. Inviting them into Cernekan politics could be disastrous. As disastrous as inviting Anglo-Normans to intervene in an Irish dispute.
I found this novel a very competently written traditional science fiction adventure. Various SF tropes are put through their paces. There are good folks with white hats confronting nasty sorts on the other side and not a lot of gray to muddle things up. This is the sort of adventure novel that could have been published at any point in the last seventy years (except the prose is much better than the vast majority of the old stuff). This is exactly the sort of novel that certain elements in fandom claim to want to read. Yet my grasp of the cosmic all leads me to believe that they will overlook this book.