2001’s Scout’sProgress is the sixth book in Sharon Lee and Steve Miller’s Liaden sciencefiction adventure series.
AellianaCaylon has endured a short but miserable arranged marriage. Now single again, she is promised by her clan head, the Delm, that she will not be forced into another such marriage.Unfortunately, the Delm’s word is binding only while she remains inpower. Her successor can ignore the promise. And it seems that Aelliana’s malevolent brother Ran Eld, will ensure this happens.The Liaden social structure is such that Aelliana has little hope ofescape.
But little is not none.Aelliana wields a weapon her corrupt, spiteful brother cannot match:applied mathematics!
Asthe old saying goes, never get into a game of skill and chanceagainst a mathematician. Bullied into a high-stakes game againstwould-be cardsharp Vin Sin chel’Mara, Aelliana uses her backgroundin mathematics to emerge a victor. Not only does she retain everypenny of her small fortune (the fortune chel’Mara had hoped towin), she now owns her very own star ship.
Theship offers her a possibility of escape … but not a certainty ofit. First she must become an accredited pilot, and do so without herbrother finding out. Forewarned, he could frustrate any attempt atflight.
Aellianaknows that much. What she does not know is that her brother has madesome very bad business deals. Up to his eyeballs in illicit debt, heneeds to get his hands on as much money as he can. That meanscommandeering his sister’s resources. It’s lucky for Aellianathat much of her property is secretly held and outside Ran Eld’sknowledge… or reach.
Shehas a year to earn her pilot’s papers, a mere year in which tobecome a pilot. She has a tutor (Master Pilot Daav, a man withserious problems of his own), but ultimately her success, and herfreedom, will depend on Aelliana’s own determination and aptitude.
Theantagonist is the weakest element in this book . Ran Eld is atwo-dimensional bully, an implausible, preening, corrupt thug moresuitable for a comic book or an American Presidential election than anovel. It’s the other characters who save the book. Most of themare well drawn and have understandable reasons for working atcross-purposes with each other.
I’veonly read two of the Liaden books (the first and the sixth); thosetwo worked pretty well as standalones. I didn’t feel as if I wasmissing, to quote Burt Gummer,“critical need-to-know information.” Inclueing was sufficient unto the read.
Itwould have been very, very easy for the authors to depict Daav, thepilot tutor, as a dashing hero who rescues Aelliana from her terriblefamily. That would have reduced her to a mere damsel in distress.What Daav does do is give Aelliana an opportunity.She is the one who must embrace the opportunity and overcome alifetime of emotional abuse. Abuse that has half-convinced her thatshe will fail at anything she attempts. It’s satisfying that shewins through.
Apleasant read; I recommend it.
1:Well, the worldbuilding also seems a bit odd. I would not expectinterstellar trade to resemble the coconut and pearl trade of theold-time South Seas, carried on by hand-to-mouth enterprises runningdecrepit tramp freighters. Of course, vast, impersonal shippingcorporations don’t offer quite the same scope for DRAMA. Unless ofcourse they are the evil corporations oppressing the plucky smalltraders.