Volume 05, Number 04, Fall, 1987

Energy Lost

Circuit Breaker: Some Laws Are Made to be Broken

By Melinda M. Snodgrass

Berkeley, 263 pages, $2.95
Reviewed by Gail Hopkins Foley
Fall, 1987

The Mormons have settled the Tharsis Region of Mars some 25 years hence, and are attempting to terraform the planet and make wide-spread colonization possible. They need extracting and processing equipment for diamond mining to finance the terraforming effort

The ruthless chief of staff for the president of the United States, Lis Varllis, has two reasons to stop the terraforming of Mars. One, a terraformed, agriculturally self-sufficient Mars would be dangerously independent. Two, the President's largest campaign contributor, a manufacturer of synthetic diamonds, is very much opposed to the trickle of diamonds from Mars becoming a torrent—the synthetic diamond market would be wiped out.

So Varllis schemes with the Protector of Worlds (POW) to stop the arrival of the equipment, plots with OSHA to halt diamond mining on Mars—citing hazardous conditions, then conspires with SPACECOM to place an embargo on the mining equipment until the POW suit is resolved. Enter Judge Cabot Huntington, his law clerk Jennifer McBride, and the traveling Fifteenth U.S. Circuit Court to adjudicate.

So far so good. The plot is both libertarian and engrossing. But Ms. Snodgrass then lets the story slither and slide into the shadows. The plot is overtaken when the ordinarily intelligent Judge Huntington becomes infatuated with another the the story's cold-blooded villains—the beautiful Amadea Kim Nu, daughter of Circuit herione Lydia Nu. So blinding is Cabot's passion for Amadea that he cannot recognize his true feelings toward Jenny and is unable to decipher obvious clues as to "who done it" or know good from evil. He does know that Amadea is young enough to be his daughter, and that she has no desire for anything but a temporary sexual relationship, but he refuses to let facts influence his actions. He is blind to reason itself.

When someone attempts to take his life, Cabot realizes, for a moment, that Jenny, not Amadea embodies the values that are important to him. But afterward the experience has NO impact on him. Led by an evidently untrustworthy part of his anatomy, he goes straight to Amadea. Although his idiotic infatuation is believable to a point, it is certainly not believable for 150 pages.

Alas, when the real storyline does emerge, it is nearly the end of the book. By that time one might become bored and insulted, as I did, waiting for Cabot to wake up to reality. So why oh why does Ms. Snodgrass continue this farce with Cabot? Where is the intelligent, rational Cabot Huntington we liked so well in Circuit—the man who admitted his mistakes and corrected them? What man could identify with Cabot, especially after his ordeal? I found Ms. Snodgrass' belief and expectation of the male gender utterly degrading. I couldn't even identify with Jenny, who dutifully (stupidly?) waited for him to come to his senses.

Sex and passion can contribute to a story (as in J. Neil Schulman's Rainbow Cadenza, Victor Milán's Cybernetic Samurai, and Snodgrass's own Circuit). The passion in Circuit Breaker, however, is pure soap opera, and it overwhelms a potentially fascinating, and never quite realized, story.

Circuit was high on my list for the '87 Prometheus Award. It was well-written, with believable characters, lively dialogue, and a quick pace. Circuit Breaker interrupts the charge flowing in Circuit and loses its energy in the process.

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