Book cover: Finder (Suzanne Palmer)
by Suzanne Palmer
Reviewed by Lisa Timpf

You’ll Find Lots to Like in Finder

Fergus Ferguson, protagonist of Suzanne Palmer’s novel Finder, has a seemingly simple mission: repo the starship Venetia’s Sword, stolen from the Shipbuilders of Pluto. Arum Gilger, the thief, is unlikely to hand over the keys without a fight, but the difficulty of the challenge only makes it more interesting for the clever and resourceful Fergus. He’s confident he’ll find a way.


The assignment brings Fergus to the Cernekan system, known as “Cernee” to the locals. Cernekan consists of a “ring station . . . surrounded by a halo . . .  of hollowed-out rocks, scavenged dead ships, and a haphazard collection of building-sized tin cans . . . tied together with hundreds of crisscrossing cables.” It’s a marginal place where people are barely able to scratch out a living. But it seems nothing is too small to fight over, and when Fergus arrives in the system, a civil war is brewing.


Determined not to get embroiled in the conflict, Fergus reminds himself that he just needs to follow his normal routine: “slip in, look around, get what he came for, and get out, and leave no trace.” Audacious scheming puts Fergus one step from reclaiming the ship. The universe, however, throws a curve-ball that puts his plans in disarray and rocks his self-confidence. The notion strikes him that “for the first time, he [is] going to lose.” Stubborn to the core, Fergus refuses to give up.


Palmer takes us to an abandoned mine, the sunshields that generate Cernee’s power, and a farm habitat where a family grows lichen as their main product. Though much of the story is set in Cernekan, circumstances force Fergus to return to Mars, where he is recognized as a hero in certain circles.


Hovering in the background are the enigmatic aliens known as the Asiig, who swoop by periodically, sending everyone in Cernekan into watchful hiding. Fergus also struggles with his own internal conflicts about what to do, often fueled by regrets about the past. The action keeps the story moving, with twists and turns that keep the reader guessing.


Getting around in a setting that is mostly space requires innovative solutions for everything from transportation to life support systems. We are introduced to self-sealing exosuits, oxygen tank charging stations, flysticks (pogo-stick-like devices that propel their riders through space), and different methods of warfare (filament wire that can shred an exosuit, for example).


Humor is woven throughout in repartee between characters, Fergus’ wry observations, and funny situations. On one occasion, Fergus, who was born in Scotland, advises one of his companions against eating a certain dish:  “when someone who comes from the land of haggis and black pudding tells you something is inedible, you should trust them.” When Fergus is struggling to regain consciousness after an explosion, he wonders “Can you be uncomfortable and dead at the same time? If so, that seemed unfair.”


Initially Fergus comes across as a likeable scamp, but by gradually revealing his past, Palmer makes him a more-rounded and more sympathetic character. It’s easy to relate to the story of the family farm in Scotland that was claimed by rising waters, a calamity his parents never adjusted to and that took its toll on Fergus and shaped the man he became. Similarly, events on Mars impact Fergus’ willingness to get involved and explain his reluctance to allow others to become entangled in his battles.


The underlying notions of Palmer’s book are also thought-provoking. She paints a future in which humans and other sentient beings have chewed through natural resources, even on the farthest-flung rim of the galaxy, forcing them to marginal locales like Cernekan; an Earth where flooding has claimed farms and cities; and a Mars where an underground rebellion battles corporate interests that want to wring every particle of value from the planet without care for the colonists themselves. Despite the downsides of Palmer’s future world, there are wonders as well, including the workings of the Shipbuilders of Pluto, described by Fergus as “the most weirdly brilliant people he knows.” And, perhaps most important, good people are still trying to fight for what they believe in against seemingly impossible odds.


Palmer is a Hugo-winning writer, and it’s easy to see why. Although Finder is the first of Palmer’s works I’ve read, I’ll gladly seek out others. I found it inventive, insightful, engrossing, and entertaining—an enjoyable read.

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