Slave Trade, by Susan Wright

slave-trade-by-susan-wright coverGenre: Science Fiction
Publisher: Pocket Books
Published: 2003
Reviewer Rating: two stars
Book Review by Lynn Nicole Louis

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My primary complaint against Slave Trade is that it’s somewhat misleading. The cover image (which, as you can see, depicts the naked back of a writhing woman whose hands are bound by some sort of web-like material) and the blurb lead one to believe that the reader is about to get into an edgy, erotic story where “human sex slaves were a luxury item throughout the galaxy.” Too, we are told that the story is about Rose Rico, a young Hispanic woman kidnapped from earth by the slavers who are (we assume) going to sell her into sexual slavery. These things are true only in a Clintonian sense. Humans are slaves, and Rose Rico is a young, kidnapped Hispanic woman, but that’s where the blurb and the story begin to diverge.

While this is indeed speculative fiction, it falls pretty far short of the erotic mark. There aren’t any sex scenes, and what sex is hinted at is violent sex perpetrated upon unwilling human victims by aliens (primarily the Alphas, who are at the top of the heap of the Alien pile). The reason that humans make good sex slaves is that humans are capable of sexual activity pretty much all the time, unlike the aliens populating the book, who seem to have sexual cycles of lust that run from once a day for 10 – 20 minutes to once every few weeks. So the deal is the aliens keep humans around, because once they start feeling randy, they will have a ready (if not exactly willing) partner.

I would hesitate to call Rose Rico a major character, since she gets no more face time than some other characters, and probably a less than a few others (and she’s less interesting than a couple of the others as well). There really is no major character, since the narrative skips around between: Rose Rico, a human woman kidnapped from earth; an alien-bred human hermaphrodite sex-slave; a psychotic alien rebel and her former lover; a mean-as-all-get-out Alpha bent on climbing the alien corporate ladder; a sympathetic-to-humans Delta (another class of alien) starship captain; and, lastly, a Gamma (another alien class) who works as a minor technician on an Alpha warship.

In the end, I found the whole of Slave Trade to be greater than the sum of its parts. It has a lot of action (much of it military) and moves forward with admirable energy. On a micro level, it would be pretty easy to pick apart and say “well, this doesn’t really work” or “I have a hard time believing that would happen”. As one example, there’s a passage where a human, an eleventh generation slave bred by aliens in a creche, makes a remark about Abraham Lincoln. Like such a person would have any idea who Lincoln was…. I had several such moments as I read, and it’s a credit to Wright’s writing (say that three times fast) that these ended up being no more than cracks rather than the speed bumps they could have been.

Is it erotic? Sexy? Sensual? Not in the least.

Slave Trade is space opera, a story of the disenfranchised few taking on the might of an entrenched and repressive empire. The aliens are nothing more than humans in makeup. Throw in the Force and a few light sabers and you’d have a story that could slip effortlessly into the Star Wars universe. Throw in some Cardassians and you’d have a Star Trek novel. If you like those types of books, you’ll enjoy Slave Trade. If you’re looking for “sexy science fiction” and have the desire for an above average degree of originality, you’re going to be disappointed.

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