Review of POCK'S WORLD by Dave Duncan
Edge Science Fiction, October 2010
The news is grim. Space trading corporation STARS has discovered evidence of a post-human invasion of Pock's World. These aliens, dubbed "cuckoos" are genetically designed to outcompete and outperform natural humans. If they're not exterminated, they will spread, and ordinary humans will soon have no place in the galaxy. The Catholic Church has no doubts--cuckoos were created by man, not God. They're abominations that must be eliminated. For politicians from the more advanced planet of Ayne, it's all just a little too convenient--the planets had just begun the process of stripping STARS of its power when STARS uncovers a supposed invasion. STARS convenes a commission consisting of a priest, a newsman, a bureaucrat, a businessman and a politician to investigate, to report back on their findings. What STARS refuses to do, though, is agree to let the commission make any binding decisions. The cuckoos must be eliminated, even if that means the complete destruction of all life on Pock's World.
Newsman Ratty Turnsole is thinking about how to use the commission to improve his ratings when he's swept off his feet by the beautiful Pock's World woman, Joy. Joy is part of a priesthood celebrating the planet to which Pock's World is a moon as mother of life and she needs a mate. That hadn't been Ratty's plan, but he is unable to help himself--even as he learns that the STARS report was true, that cuckoos actually have been definitively identified and that STARS has launched a planet busting probe. A rational man would head back to Ayne. Believing that some miracle will save Pock's World, that the sacrifice of one of Joy's priesthood will divert the planet-destroyer simply doesn't make sense.
Author Dave Duncan (see more BooksForABuck.com reviews of speculative fiction by Duncan) creates an interesting future universe. As mankind has settled planets not designed for human occupation, it's been necessary to tinker with genes, but the Church has demanded limits. Crossing those limits, and certainly including DNA from alien lifeforms, is forbidden. I thought that Duncan could have tightened the first half. When Ratty took center stage, the story worked. When other point of view characters took over, the story slowed way down. The conclusion is exciting as the planet-busting probe hurles toward Pock's World and Duty attempts to self-sacrifice, and as Ratty turns detective to uncover the truth behind miracles.
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