Emissaries From The Dead by Adam-Troy Castro

Emissaries From The Dead by Adam-Troy Castro
Emissaries From The Dead by Adam-Troy Castro

The novel “Emissaries From The Dead” by Adam-Troy Castro. It was published for the first time in 2008 and won the Philip K. Dick Award in 2009. It’s the first novel of the Andrea Cort series.

One One One is an artificial habitat in space created by a community of artificial intelligences known as the AISource in which among various life forms they created a sentient species. For unfathomable reasons the AISource decided to announce its creation to the organic sentient species and a group of humans who are part of the Diplomatic Corps received permission to make contact with the sentient species in the habitat.

When one of the humans is killed in mysterious circumstances Andrea Cort is assigned the task of investigating but that’s conditioned by political problems so in no way she can accuse the AISource, at the cost of bringing to conviction a scapegoat.

What’s more, even before she reached the habitat Andrea Cort receives death threatening messages and on her arrival she’s informed that there was another murder.

Andrea Cort has a past that’s complicated to say the least and soon the AISource informs her that soon she’ll discover something about a dramatic event of her childhood, is that the reason why someone has explicitly requested the Diplomatic Corps that she’d put in charge of the investigation? What connection have two apparently totally unrelated events such as the murders she’s investigating and the one she committed when she was a child?

Writing detective science fiction isn’t easy because there’s always the risk that the author cheats using a future technology in the story. For this reason to write serious detective science fiction the author must immediately put all the cards on the table explaining what technologies are available to allow the readers to properly evaluate the evidence provided in the story.

“Emissaries From The Dead” actually isn’t exactly a detective story: it’s a science fiction novel that also contains a detective story and it’s also a noir, given the protagonist strong and smart but with a dark past. In fact this novel might not appeal to detective stories lovers because even the protagonist discovers the exact rules of the game during her investigation.

The murders and the investigation meant to discover the criminal are the basic elements of the novel but they’re also intended to allow the development of other subplots that go far beyond this mystery.

First of all, the habitat is important. The zone on its cylindrical surface is toxic to humans but plants thrive so that they can grow up to a high area where the air is breathable for humans. It’s therefore in the upper zone, which is towards the central axis of the cylinder, that the human study group was established being careful not to fall. In fact the AISource has given permission to import only a limited amount of technological equipment leaving the humans to deal with a certain level of risk of falling into the abyss.

The Brachiators, the sentient species created on the One One One habitat, regard humans as ghosts but those who can climb up on the plants are considered half-ghosts. The Brachiators are sloth-like creatures clinging to vegetation and the discovery of their creation by the AISource has created concern among organic sentient species for fear that the artificial intelligence wanted to create slaves.

The AISource is a community known only superficially by the organic species: the artificial intelligences that compose it were born who knows how many millennia ago, created by organic species now extinct. Only they know where’s their hardware and what are their technological skills but the organic species don’t dare to challenge them because they feel they have no hope of defeating them.

The concern of organic sentient species isn’t determined by altruism: the fictional universe created by Adam-Troy Castro isn’t utopian like Star Trek’s, rather it’s closer to Dune’s because ordinary people, regardless of their species, are typically in a state of slavery or almost. Interstellar wars aren’t convenient for the enormous resources they require but local wars are still common.

The topic of sentient beings as marionettes go beyond the novel: Adam-Troy Castro had already written several stories set in the same fictional universe and in 1998 he won the Hugo Award with a story that’s coincidentally titled “The Funeral March of the Marionettes”.

In “Emissaries From The Dead” the protagonist Andrea Cort has to face her tragic past during the story. She grew up in a colony where humans and aliens lived together but one day people had been taken for reasons never understood by a murderous rampage and even the little Andrea had participated in the carnage.

Years later Andrea Cort faces her inner demons but without a happy ending because it’s not the kind of story where we get moved seeing the protagonist overcoming her dark past and live happily ever after. For her this story is a crossing point, in some ways a turning point in her life, but it’s far from a conclusion.

Adam-Troy Castro has in fact already written two other novels with Andrea Cort as the protagonist: “The Third Claw of God” in 2009 and “Sturz der Marionetten” (so as not to forget the topic of the marionettes) in 2010 which curiously is currently available only in the German edition.

“Emissaries From The Dead” isn’t perfect: for example the narration is in first person from Andrea Cort’s point of view, which is sometimes too verbose in explaining her thoughts. In general however character development and a sophisticated and intriguing plot make it a novel definitely worth reading.

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