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Anniversary Day by Kristine Kathryn Rusch

Cover art by Jonathan Kort

Published by WMG Publishing

Reviewed by Leigh Kimmel

Although this novel belongs to Ms. Rusch's ongoing Retrieval Artist series, it presents a very different appearance compared to previous volumes of the series. This is the result of Ms. Rusch having left the publisher which had brought out the earlier volumes and thus lost the services of the cover artist who designed previous volumes.

The story behind this switch is becoming all too common, alas. In earlier days, arrangements between writers and publishers were generally private matters, not discussed in the public forum. When a publisher dropped an author's long-running series or an author took a series to a different publisher, readers might never know the reason why unless they were plugged into the industry gossip networks.

With the growth of the Internet it has become far more common for authors to publicly discuss both the creative and business aspects of their work online. In Ms. Rusch's case, she runs a blog called The Business Rusch which is specifically oriented to informing beginning writers of the situation in the publishing industry, and she has been particularly vigilant about reporting abuses that lock authors into unfair contracts which can do longterm damage to their careers. And the contract that her old publisher wanted her to sign for this book contained a particularly egregious example of such a clause, and they would not agree to remove it upon request.

When I heard this news, I worried that it would mean a radical shrinkage in its potential market. Small press and self-published books are seldom acquired by libraries or stocked on bookstore shelves, which would mean a proportionate reduction in the opportunities for potential readers to discover it via serendipity. However, I was happily surprised to discover a copy on the shelves of my local public library, which suggests that the Retrieval Artist series will not disappear from public view, to be purchased only by people who are already familiar with it and know to look for it online.

The title refers to the anniversary of the terrorist bombing at the climax of Consequences. It's been four years now, and the commemoration of Armstrong Dome's survival has become a citywide holiday.

However, Ms. Rusch doesn't start with the anniversary. Instead, she begins with the event itself, and the impact it had upon a relatively minor police detective. Bartholomew Nyquist was investigating a murder when the bomb went off, trapping him and his partner in a crumbling building with a deranged killer.

This is important when we get to the story-present because Nyquist will be the principal investigator in the demise of the city's mayor, a death that looks very much like an assassination. The man's entire body has turned steel-gray and hardened like concrete, suggesting the use of some kind of particularly nasty poison. But who could have slipped something past the sophisticated protections used by the politicians of this technologically advanced future, and how?

By this point I was wondering what's happening with the principal protagonist of the series. Sure, the far-future police procedural with political overtones is fascinating, but to my mind the Retrieval Artist series is about Miles Flint and his struggles to live by his stern moral code in a world full of problematic shades of gray, where the law doesn't always serve justice, especially in the interface between human and alien societies.

When Miles finally does appear, he's having a fatherly talk with his daughter Talia about how she's going to handle her school's upcoming Anniversary Day commemoration. This question is complicated by the fact that Talia is actually a clone of Miles' long-dead natural daughter Emmaline, who perished as a result of shaken-baby syndrome when a daycare worker manhandled her to get her to stop crying.

In the society of the Retrieval Artist universe, clones are stigmatized and marginalized second-class citizens. They are denied many of the rights naturally-conceived people take for granted, and their bodies are marked with tags (generally at the back of the neck) to make sure they can't pass as naturally-conceived people and enjoy those privileges as if they were better than they are.

Miles has done everything he can to ensure that Talia will enjoy all the same legal rights as if she had been the natural product of his marriage to his late wife. However, even the most airtight legal adoption can only do so much in the face of social stigma and the informal discrimination that grows from it. He cannot force her classmates to make friends with her and treat her as an equal. The best he can do is try to minimize the visible signs of her status, but then she has to decide how much she wants to tell people about her past, with the knowledge that certain information may reveal things that will lead to social rejection on the basis of her clone status.

Meanwhile, the crisis of the mayor's death is widening. Mayors of other domed cities are being attacked in the same way. One who hasn't been attacked is in seclusion, and it's becoming increasingly obvious to the reader that he's an alcoholic and incompetent to fulfill his duties and his deputy has been covering for him for years. (It's interesting to see another flicker of memory of the beginnings of spaceflight in that dome's name, Glenn Station, which almost certainly refers to John Glenn, first American in orbit).

As the crisis worsened, Miles is torn between his need to use his computer and detective skills to help the investigation and his need as a father to make sure his daughter feels safe and protected. That natural tornness that any working parent feels is exacerbated by his knowledge of the trauma she's already survived when she and her mother fell victim to a Recovery Man.

In the course of the novel, both Nyquist and Miles make important discoveries about the perpetrators of the attack, but by the end the case is still not closed. As a result, the novel is not complete in itself, but is effectively a setup for at least one more direct sequel. It will be interesting to see where she takes it, since there are strong hints that the trail will take the storyline outside the Sol system. This may mean an increased role for the alien members of the Earth Alliance, which could be problematic as a result of the unresolved issues of whether alien cultural differences are biological in nature and thus not learnable by humans, such that humans can't help but offend alien laws and cultural sensibilities (think the society of the atevi in C J Cherryh's Foreigner universe). I've found the Retrieval Artist novels are strongest when they focus primarily on human crimes and problems.

Review posted October 31, 2012

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