Rem Wigmore’s 2021 Foxhunt is a stand-alone near-future science fiction novel.
Imbued by nanotech with abilities beyond baseline human (imbued = Blooded with a capital B, in this era’s vernacular), travelling entertainer Orfeus pursues many possible romantic connections with varying degrees of success. Life for Orfeus in the ecologically sensible world of tomorrow is sweet.
Dealing with jealous spouses is well within Orfeus’ skillset. Bloodthirsty super-powered vigilantes are another matter.
Everyone knows that the short-sighted policies of the bad old days half a millennium ago caused that vast ecological crisis known as the Brink. Nevertheless, there are people — bad people — who prefer convenience to planetary conscience and take more than they give. The current system prevails because it has institutions to enforce the rules.
The Order of the Vengeful Wild is one such institution. An autonomous organization of highly trained, technologically enhanced killers, the Order tracks down and brutally kills ecological villains on the basis of top-quality hearsay. While the dead cannot learn from their error, the murders provide useful examples that, it is hoped, will warn the masses to stay on the straight and narrow.
This sounds fine in theory. When the Wolf attacks Orfeus, Orfeus discovers that she feels a curious reluctance to be murdered on a flimsy pretext. Her Blood-given abilities allow her to escape from the cyborg Beast. The Order is infamous for its determination. Her initial escape is not the end of the matter.
Were this not annoying enough, the Eldergrove also takes a close interest in Orfeus. The Eldergrove, a coterie of the Blooded, tracks lineages imbued with nanotechnological Blood. Orfeus’ parents did not come from such lineages. While it’s clearly possible for a wild-card Blooded person to exist, it’s rare enough that the Eldergrove would like to understand how Orfeus managed it. While not homicidal in their methods, the Eldergrove does share the Order’s insistence on instant and total submission.
Having provided Eldergrove with the minimum level of compliance possible, Orfeus’ attention is drawn back to the Order by the Order’s incessant assassination attempts. After an attack that leaves a considerable part of her hometown on fire, Orfeus resolves to take bold action against her persecutors.
She demands a place in the Order.
This is an era that has abandoned the tired old idea of verifiable evidence and formal procedure. Instead, it believes in bold action uninhibited by mere facts!
“What was the proof?” Orfeus said suddenly. Maybe it would help. “Proof is unreliable,” Faolan said. He kicked the door open. “We just have prey.”
While this approach works for the Punisher, it proves less reliable in Foxhunt. Orfeus cannot recall having committed an Affront against Nature; other targets appear just as innocent. In the Order’s defense, their purpose may be less punishing the guilty than providing the innocent with motivation to stay above criticism.
Orfeus’ culture has not abandoned high-technology. Not only are a minority enhanced with blood-born nanotech, but solar power is also abundant. Indeed, the Order’s ecological killers are cyborgs. One might wonder how these marvels are produced without straying into the errors of the bad old days. This is not really addressed. What is clear is that this culture is able to make brand-new, never-before-seen mistakes.
Also of note: while Orfeus does not take close interest in government, the impression left by the narrative is that government is for the most part local, with larger scale policy arising from consensus between various power centres, each of which considers itself above criticism. There is a temptation in quasi-utopian narratives for the authors to carefully steer their plots around the obvious failure modes of their setting. In Foxhunt’s case, the plot derives from those failure modes (specifically, unchecked vigilantes and occasional outbreaks of Mad Science).
Orfeus might describe themselves as a dashing rogue. The spouses of Orfeus’ lovers might choose a different word. Nevertheless, the entertainer is charming and their adventure is competently told. While there’s an unresolved plot hook that leaves ample room for sequels, the novel functions satisfactorily as a stand-alone.