Known for her screenplay of the 1990 movie, Catchfire, starring Jodie Foster and Dennis Hopper, R.K. Mann recently released her debut sci-fi novel, The Trader (January 2015). This character-rich space adventure takes place in the 35th century, a world where people live more than 100 years, robots serve humans, and interstellar travel is possible.
The Trader opens when a Patusian tradesman awakens in a strange land to some astonishing injuries. Confused and weakened, the man cannot see, hear, or speak. Something or someone has taken his eyes, ears, and mouth; he is a man with no face. Blind but with newfound telepathic abilities, the man is able to navigate his surroundings based on what observations he hears from those around them. He stumbles along and finally meets a medic who cares for him and shows him kindness. The medic, Maranth, he learns, is a victim of a recent raider attack and is now enslaved and caring for those at the raider camp. Far from both of their homes, The Man With No Face and Maranth work together to try to restore themselves and return to the life they used to know.
Although I found the beginning chapters of this novel to be quite confusing, the second half of it makes The Trader a worthwhile read. I think what confused me most in the beginning was the world building. I couldn’t quite picture the faraway interstellar lands. As the story progresses, the world building becomes secondary to the main characters, who I found to be very interesting and quite relatable.
Although Maranth is intriguing, my favorite character was The Man With No Face. Clever, resourceful, and honorable, this tradesmen is the novel’s hero. Despite his tragic loss of multiple senses, he uses telepathy as a secret weapon to hatch a plan that leads Maranth and the tradesman on an exciting space adventure.
The enriched telepathic abilities of several of the characters was both one of my favorite sci-fi elements and the one that caused me the greatest trouble. I had to fight against the sense of implausibility I felt around this notion, especially in the first half of the novel. For example, it is through wits and telepathy alone that The Man With No Face manages to flee the plateau he initially awakens in and find the raiders camp. Furthermore, for such an incredibly enriched kind of telepathy, Maranth is unexplainably the only human who can hear his thoughts. Why this is and why it’s only a one-way communication was not addressed in this novel. Hopefully answers to these questions as well as a few others will be revealed in the author’s next installment.
R.K. Mann is currently working on the sequel which promises to be just as exciting as The Trader. While reading this novel, I couldn’t help but be reminded of the television shows Firefly and the 2004 release of Battlestar Galactica. An interstellar space opera with elements of military sci fi, Mann’s debut novel is certain to entertain fans of either or both of these shows. A tale of loss, acceptance, and love, The Trader is a book you won’t want to miss.
Reviewed by Libby Bridges
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