Agent of Change is the first volume of Steve Miller and Sharon Lee’s Liaden series.
Terrans bitterly resent their lowly position in the galactic status hierarchy. The off-world humans are richer and look down on their hick cousins; aliens possess advanced technology that Terra cannot match. Off-worlders, human and alien alike, sneer at Terrans and violate their laws with impunity. As a result, Terrans tend to overreact to provocation. Terra is a dangerous place.
Miri is an ex-mercenary. Val Con, of the clannish Liaden, is a spy. Neither should have come to Terra at this moment in time. Both of them did.
After a meet-cute gun battle that leaves the street covered in bodies, Miri and Val Con form an alliance. Miri’s last employer left her in the gun sights of a vast criminal cartel. Off-worlder spy and occasional assassin Val Con is by definition an enemy of the state. They find themselves targeted by both mob and government. There is no place to hide.
Val Con, a man with a talent for calculating the odds, knows that this alliance must be temporary at best, and most likely will end in Miri’s death at his hands. He himself expects to be cut down by some enemy who is just that slight bit faster than Val. The logic is utterly clear. Death is inevitable.
And yet …
Somehow they survive every battle. Somehow, Val Con can never quite bring himself to kill Miri, although she sees death in his eyes over and over. Somehow what was supposed to be a momentary alliance of convenience is turning into something else.
From the founding of the Del Rey publishing house, up until the Great Purge of the mid-1990s, I was a reliable customer for Del Rey books. It‘s surprising, then, that I somehow avoided reading the book under review. Of which fact I was reminded when someone sent me a copy of the 1988 Del Rey edition of Agent of Change. This is even more surprising given that the first three Liaden books (1988’s Agent of Change and Conflict of Honors, and 1989’s Carpe Diem) were avidly discussed on USENET, then my online home. Wikipedia claims that discussion of the Liaden books took place on rec.arts.sf.written; I think it might have taken place even earlier, in the long-ago times of rec.arts.sf-lovers. Of blessed memory.
USENET. Ah, the days of my youth.
Agent of Change and the series of which it is a part have a long and complicated history, in large part thanks to that online buzz. I won’t go into mind-numbing detail. I will only say that had fans not convinced publishers like Ace, Meisha Merlin, Embiid Publishing, and others to embrace the series, then Agent of Change would have been the first book in a three-book series. Instead, it is the first book of a nine book series, within a larger narrative universe containing seventeen novels and at least twenty-one shorter works. All that thanks to online buzz back when computers were coal-fired.
Sadly, this kind of story isn’t really my thing. I blame James Bond -> the movie Golden Eye -> the scene where Bond kills a bunch of Russian soldiers (whose only fault was being on duty on the wrong day) before carelessly crushing innocent bystanders  by stealing a tank and racing it at high speed through Russian streets. I permanently lost my taste for works in which redshirts are mown down like cut grass. Too bad that a lot of this novel shows the two leads chewing through mooks like a goat in clover.
(I do admit that there is some nuance in Miri and Val Con’s relationship with their opponents. The dangerous duo do commit carnage in job lots, but for Miri, her opponents are just working folk who happen to work for the other side. Val Con considers his opponents bitter enemies. Miri could possibly reconcile with her enemies; Val Con could not and will not.)
If I set aside my distaste for mass murder. I can see why people loved the original so much. There’s a lot to like: the byplay between the two leads, the fast-paced plot, the gripping action scenes. It’s not my kind of novel but it could be yours.
1: Oh, the film makers showed a few people getting out of their cars before the cars were crushed, but consider that these were crowded streets and that it would be hard to escape a vehicle when it was hemmed in by other cars.