Volume 4, Number 04, Fall, 1986

A new, more Subtle Smith

The Wardove

By L. Neil Smith

Berkley, 223 pages
Reviewed by D. R. Blackmon
September, 1984

Fans of L. Neil Smith have always known that he is an exciting writer. Favoring the rat-tat-tat libertarian action story, he never makes his reader wait for a story to develop, and through the plot's twists and turns he inserts the kind of philosophy that we like. Smith very deservedly picked up a Prometheus Award for The Probability Broach, and led us into the second American Revolution with "The New Covenant" in The Gallatin Divergence.

With The Wardove he has taken a new and more subtle direction. Though the story line sounds familiar, this novel is not a continuation of the North American Confederation series. It has a different style to it, and a different feel. In fact, The Wardove could be called a new limb of the L. Neil Smith book-tree.

Finally, Smith has taken the time to develop characters. With the hero, Nathaniel Blackburn, he takes a relatively straight-forward approach, but he tries a much harder and more convincing route with system superstar Chelsie Bradford. Some wonderful song lyrics are interleaved along the way, giving the story a poignancy that meshes nicely. I found myself yearning to hear the music as I read. The lyrics fit so well because the plot revolves around Bradford—some despicable human or alien life-form is trying to kill Chelsie, thus stopping her interplanetary tour.

The story takes place on the Benjamin Parkinson, a rusty starship populated with Humans, Ogat(s), and Ewont(s), so the experienced fan of the detective genre will have more to deal with than motive and opportunity. Our hero must deal with a war-related handicap, natural cynicism, and inexperience, and he must do it while becoming emotionally involved with the person that's most in danger. Even though there is a useful Smithian Glossary, it is more helpful in explaining story structure than solving the case.

But why beat around the Ogatravian scrub-brush? If you like a first-rate detective story with a believable protagonist, a bittersweet undertone. anti-war sentiment. and the libertarian flourishes that L. Neil Smith is known for, you'll like this book.

Give The Probability Broach to your friends to show them how Smith can construct a libertarian society. Give them The Gallatin Divergence to stimulate their thoughts about a new Declaration of Independence. But give them The Wardove to show them how Neil can write.

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