by Mary Sisson

Cover image

Series: Trang #2
Publisher: Mary Sisson
Copyright: 2012
Printing: December 2013
Format: Kindle
Pages: 375

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Trust is a direct sequel to Trang and should not be read out of order. Both the primary and secondary plot deal with the consequences of the ending of Trang and thus spoil it heavily.

After a dodgy and unethical debriefing under mental probe (which took far too long to become relevant to the story) Philippe Trang is back at work as the human diplomat to a space station full of aliens in intergalactic space. At first, interspecies relations have not changed much, but soon Philippe will be drawn farther into the consequences of Trang's dramatic conclusion than he would have expected. And there are other complications: a new group of Special Forces soldiers, an extremely grumpy alien who disapproves of his species' current culture, and the continuing incomprehensible behavior of the Magic Man.

I was hoping this series would be a hidden gem of diplomatic SF, a subgenre that I want to exist. Unfortunately, this entry takes a strong turn towards more conventional territory: a Star Trek plot.

One of the merits of the first novel is that Trang, and the humans in general, didn't have much power. Humans were meeting aliens as equals or inferiors, and both sides were attempting to understand. Although the humans became central to the plot (probably unavoidable when they're the protagonists), it was somewhat by accident. I was hoping Sisson would lean into that setup, stress the equal footing, and focus on the complex diplomacy. Instead, Trust puts Trang in a position of considerable authority over one of the alien races.

Like most Star Trek plots, this book is primarily about mapping strange alien behavior onto human morality to solve the problem of the week. As an entry in that genre, it's... okay. I still like Trang as a character, Sisson does an adequate job showing how weird aliens can be (although mostly by jumbling together extremes of human behavior instead of finding something truly alien), and the opinions of the aliens continue to matter. But I feel like this series is sliding towards making the humans central to everything, and I was not enthused by a plot that requires Trang sort out complex political problems for an entire alien race he knows next to nothing about.

This book also adds more viewpoints, giving us several chapters from the perspective of one of Trang's escort soldiers and one from one of the aliens. I liked the alien perspective; it was probably the best chapter of the book. Seeing the human characters from an external perspective was amusing, and I liked how both the humans and the aliens surprised and confused each other.

That said, it also felt like a bit of a cheat to tell the reader about the cultural forces at play that Trang was missing. I already thought Trang was being exceptionally dim about the alien gifts he was given, pocketing them without attempting to understand them and then never studying them later. Being shown more things he should have tried to figure out didn't help. You're a diplomat in an extended first contact situation: please have some basic curiosity about what's going on and talk it over with the people around you, rather than treating aliens like children.

The soldier perspective adds a secondary plot that was okay but a bit silly, and I'm not sure why Sisson needed to introduce a second perspective to tell it. I think the same secondary plot would have been more interesting if she'd stuck with Trang's perspective and forced him to reconstruct what had been happening when he wasn't paying attention. As is, the plot relied too much on people being stupid and not talking to each other.

There was nothing seriously wrong with this book, but it's also not fulfilling the potential of the first book of the series. It felt like okay self-published science fiction; that's not nothing, but there are a lot of books like that, and I wanted diplomatic science fiction that goes somewhere different. I may give the third book a chance, but I'm feeling less enthused now.

Followed by Tribulations.

Rating: 6 out of 10

Reviewed: 2022-12-09

Last modified and spun 2022-12-10