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Wildcatter, by Wildcatter, by Dave Duncan
Genre: Science Fiction
Publisher: Edge Publishing
Published: 2012
Review Posted: 9/1/2013
Reviewer Rating:
Reader Rating: Not Rated

Wildcatter, by Wildcatter, by Dave Duncan

Book Review by David Hodge

Have you read this book?

In the universe of Wildcatter, interstellar travel is too expensive, too slow, and too unreliable due to variable time slip (dilation) to generate much trade in things. Most exploration and exploitation are in information. The life on new worlds generates new drugs and other useful chemicals. This effort is dominated by "multinational" giants such as Galactic, but small "wildcatters" also jump in. A lot of money, and some lives, can go down the drain on an unsuccessful trip, but a successful one can make everyone involved rich. The rewards trickle down even to crew such as our hero, Prospector Seth Broderick. Most of the time, the prospector is everyone's gofer, cook and busboy. When they get to a likely world, it's his job to actually land on the planet and plant his employer's flag. If he survives this, biologists and others do their jobs. Seth's employer, J.C. Lecanard, got his money as prospector.

An interstellar licensing authority receives and posts most information on prospective new worlds. Bribery can get you advance notice; Lecanard has done this. When an exploration ship reaches a planet, the owner or agent has a short list of choices: he can stake the planet (claim it), write it off as worthless, flag it as dangerous, or, everyone's nightmare, flag it as having intelligent life. This is a nightmare because everyone has to pull out and leave the natives and their world strictly alone. This has never happened officially happened, though there are stories. Another nightmare that's never happened is bringing back a plague.

So Lecanard's ship, the Golden Hind, arrives at a world he's named, sight unseen, Cacafuego (shitfire). It's a chancy place, its axis nearly parallel to its ecliptic (orbital plane). The weather is violent. And it's flagged dangerous by their big rival Galactic. No reason is given by the danger beacon, though efforts at landing by Galactic resulted in crashes. Dynamics among the crew, which have been playing out on the voyage, now become critical. Lecanard is male and has all his money, plus other people's, riding on the planet. He has go fever. Seth is the other male. Maria Chang, planetologist and first officer Hanna Finn are female. Captain Jordan and astrobiologist Reese Platt are hermaphrodites. This condition is initiated in gestation by drugs. The individual can switch between male and female by more drugs. Personality and judgment are affected. Sex among the crew is expressly allowed, the idea being that it's inevitable, so why fight it? Seth is currently the (now female) captain's lover, though it doesn't save him from cleaning up the lunchroom.

The owner wants to land, in spite of horrendous weather the captain is (properly) cautious. Seth is the one with his life on the line. He's trained in things physical, including combat, but intelligent and not suicidal. The ship's computer ("Control") and Seth check out the place and decide he'll land, near Galactic's crashed shuttle, and near some interesting (terrain?) features.

Once down, he finds a survivor from Galactic's expedition. She's sick with something others have died from, but is being helped by centaur-like natives, who are probably intelligent. Oops and double oops. But -- SPOILER -- it's something from Earth, only triggered by Cacafuego. And it involves inability to lie, which means money. Also valuable is Seth's log. Basically, he sells his story over the internet for big bucks. Lecanard, eager to risk Seth's life, gets his.
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