2003’s Contact Imminent is the fourth volume in Kristine Smith’s Jani Kilian quintet.
Human-idomeni relations are troubled at the best of times. On the plus side, the idomeni now have an embassy on Earth, near the terrestrial capital Chicago. On the minus side, someone appears to have done a subpar job of ensuring that the property granted for idomeni use was properly prepared. Or so the landmines suggest.
Whether the mines were left in place by accident or planted by an anti-idomeni faction is a matter for a long-term investigation. In the short run, what matters is removing the potentially deadly devices before anyone is killed. Disarming the training mines goes poorly. A human is killed outright, while the idomeni minding him is badly injured. It is a black eye for human-idomeni relations, particularly given the idomeni aversion to heroic medical intervention.
Soon after the mine incident, affronts against the embassy become more overt. This suggests that the mines were sabotage, not mishap. It’s all more ammunition for the traditionalist idomeni, who opposed expanded contact with humans and would welcome an excuse to seal idomeni borders against the obstreperous primates. In their eyes, the social cost of dealing with humans is too onerous: it more than outweighs the economic hit from cutting off trade.
At the moment, pro-contact and anti-contact factions are evenly balanced. Too bad for the idomeni Oligarch, for whom failure to keep all his subjects happy could well mean critique by assassination. The situation is a delicate balancing act, one that does not need destabilizing factors.
Jani is a human and idomeni hybrid; she’s the product of the sort of advanced medical intervention the idomeni shun. So far she has been somewhat useful in keeping the peace. Now there are rumours that there is another hybrid (a complication that could disrupt the delicate human-idomeni balance). Jan is assigned to investigate the rumours.
Jani discovers that rumour is, as so often is the case, wildly inaccurate. There isn’t a second hybrid. More exactly, there isn’t just a second hybrid. There are enough of them to form a community. Not only that, but not all of them are hybridized humans. Some are trans-human, converted idomeni, who are a flaming affront to idomeni conservatives. Some of them are determined to reform idomeni society regardless of the short-term costs.
This book presented me with some bewildering plot turns. Such as the sudden romantic entanglement between Jani and John Shroud, the man who re-fashioned her using idomeni genetic material at the beginning of the series. Rather inconveniently for Jani, she’s a one-romantic-partner-at-a-time sort of person. She already has an existing friend-with-benefits. This triangle further complicates her efforts to save the universe from ardent xenophiles and just as ardent xenophobes.
I understand what the idomeni get from hanging out humans but it’s not especially clear why humans are convinced the idomeni are worth the bother.
I did think the book held together better than the previous books in the series. I did find it a little overlong, but I note that this was published before book chains announced that they would no longer accept long SF novels from midlist authors1, so the next book should be leaner.
But don’t wait for that. The writing is competent, the characters engaging, and the series so far is worth a read.
1: Because long science fiction books by mid-list authors did not sell.