Volume 23, Number 01, Fall, 2004

The Artifact

By Michael Gear

Daw, 1998: $6.99 ISBN 0886774063

Reviewed by Chris Hibbert
November 2004

In a milieu of interstellar politics and war, a privateer, Archon, discovers an alien artifact of amazing power—in this case power designed to corrupt its wielder. The artifact has gone through the hands of many star-faring races, and it has led each of them to internecine war and eventually self-destruction. Michael Gear sets a wonderful story with all of the variety of human strengths and weaknesses on display.

Archon reveals enough about his discovery to convince the leaders of the independent worlds to go along with his request for a multi-faction expedition led by a widely respected war hero, Solomon Carrasco. Carrasco was on the opposite side in Archon's most recent battle and has only recently recovered from his (physical) wounds. Archon is a good judge of character and he is banking on Carrasco to do the right thing with the powerful artifact, and to be able to keep the factions from each other's throats during the expedition.

The diplomatic members of the expedition are told that they will be responsible for writing a new constitution when they reach their destination, but they have heard rumors of the expedition's real purpose. This has them constantly at each other's throats. There is intrigue, betrayal, and murder. Other parties have figured out that something is up, and are shadowing Carrasco’s ship the entire trip. This gives Carrasco a suitable reason to run near-constant drills to get his crew into shape for the inevitable battles, and gives the author an opportunity to show the characters growing into their responsibilities, and learning to respect Carrasco and one another.

The diplomats represent a variety of governments and manage to act out the weaknesses of most governmental forms. One of the continuing funny pieces is that the representative of the society descended from the failed Russian experiment with socialism uses Marxist-sounding rhetoric to defend his society’s reliance on markets and freedom to protect the rights of the common man from the government. This contrasts well with an insufferable aristocrat who treats everyone as subservient to his slightest whim. The crew is made up of strong individuals and they display most of the traits that make humanity worthy of respect.

Gear uses his material well. There are few surprising developments once he has set the characters and events in motion, but it is still a pleasure to read a well-written book with so many characters who start out worthy of respect yet grow in various ways through the course of the action.

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