James Nicoll Reviews

Home > Reviews > Post

Tell me why can’t I just reach up and simply touch the sky

Law of Survival  (Jani Kilian, volume 3)

By Kristine Smith 

15 Aug, 2016

Military Speculative Fiction That Doesn't Suck


Support me with a Patreon monthly subscription!

2001’s Law of Survival is the third novel in Kristine Smith’s Jani Kilian series. 

Jani Kilian has had a tumultuous life. Framed for a murder, cashiered from the service, doomed to life as a fugitive … but eventually she achieves a soft landing. She has been cleared of the murder and is no longer hiding from the law. Well, cleared of that particular crime. Life as a fugitive meant cutting a few legal corners. The smart thing to do would be to find some unobtrusive niche in which she can exercise her considerable bureaucratic skills1 and lay low.

But poor Jani is drawn, willy-nilly, back into human-alien conflict.

Peace between human and idomeni is a fragile thing. Neither race really understands on a gut level how the other thinks, although each has had sufficient experience to make educated guesses about the other. In the past, cultural differences contributed to violent clashes. Now, the two species manage to trade.

A backwater colony’s attempt to purchase vitally needed water processing equipment hits a roadblock when the purchase runs smack into the most basic (if unwritten) rule of the Commonwealth, which is thou shalt not endanger any of the oligarchy’s bottom lines.” The transaction appears to threaten the interests of Exterior Minister Anias Ulanova and her allies, because she has intervened to block the sale.

Meanwhile, Jani is given a document that seems to implicate idomeni ambassador Nema in a serious affront to idomeni mores. Idomeni have many vices, but duplicity is not one of them. It seems unthinkable that Nema would violate propriety in this manner. It is unthinkable. Someone must be framing Nema.

Someone who will be happy to shift gears, from covert methods to open violence, if Jani foils the first plan. Someone who may be one of Jani’s closest friends. Or her lover…


Jani’s friends seem to be fated to be cut down in the crossfire. To her credit, she does make the time to visit her wounded chums in the hospital … or at least she does when circumstances allow. 

I am obliged to grumble about the very idea of human-alien hybrids, but I will admit that in this case, the implausible premise underlines the general theme of the series: dissimilar cultures living cheek by jowl will slowly begin to merge. There are barriers but they are permeable.

Many science fiction settings feature strict segregation between races, even when they can share the same environment. When they are forced to share, sharing usually breaks down into war and sometimes genocide. Somewhat to the alarm of both human and idomeni authorities, this is not the case in Jani Kilian’s universe. Earth might be an oligarchy but from the perspective of the clanless Haárin, it offers freedoms they will never have at home. Similarly, there are enclaves of humans living amongst the idomeni. 

Presumably Smith builds on these themes in the last two books in the series, but how, exactly, and if the colony worlds ever manage to get Earth’s boot off their necks, I could not say. Way back in 2007, I was sent the first three books by the SFBC (which reviews eventually resulted in an SFBC omnibus). I think someone higher up the food chain must have snagged the last two books for themselves2.… I look forward to reading future installments. 

Law of Survival is available here.

1: I thought about titling this paperwork-is-civilization-paperwork-is-meaning-paperwork-is-life-itself” but while that is a worthy sentiment, it’s not from this book and might give people the wrong impression about it. 

2: This is why I have not read all the Pratchett Discworld novels: I did not have time for non-work books then, and I was never assigned to review Pratchett.