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14 May 2010

#19 Hunter's Run by George R.R. Martin, Daniel Abraham, and Gardner R. Dozois

George R.R. Martin is quite possibly one of the greatest fantasy/science fiction writers of our time, and his name is what prompted me to read this book. I found it while investigating a different title by co-author Daniel Abraham.

Ramón Espejo is on the run, having killed an important foreign delegate in a drunken brawl. As a prospector on the new human colony at Sao Paulo, he's used to spending his days alone in the wilderness, and finds himself more comfortable away from the concerns of society.
Then, his small mining explosive reveals the hiding place of an alien species unknown to man who take Ramón captive. Forced to hunt a man who escaped their grasp, Ramón quickly realizes that all is not what it seems. The man he is hunting is himself, and he is a clone created by the aliens for the purpose of hunting himself. Yet, the cloning is perfect; he retains his memory, his personality and sense of self; even the scars earned from a rough-and-tumble life appear on his body. Slipping the bonds with which the aliens held him, Ramón guardedly joins forces with his double, hiding the truth of his identity as long as he can.

To popular culture, this book doesn't have much going for it. It's science fiction, the premise is hokey, and the characters aren't sympathetic. Did I mention it's science fiction? Give it some credit, though. Where other than scifi can a badass face off against himself? Ramón Espejo is quite a character. He's mean, violent, sneaky, foulmouthed, and more than a little sociopathic, and the entire book is about him. The character development is slow, kicking in maybe halfway through the book, and it's not exactly subtle. What's interesting is the way that you can see the clone developing alongside the human who is unchanging.

The writing in the book is really good. There isn't unnecessary development or description; everything is to the point, moving the plot at a good pace. The writing is not artistic, but allows you to sink into the reality of Sao Paulo. The plot, while somewhat hard to swallow from outside, is really well handled. There's a small amount of set-up at the beginning of the novel, but just enough to get you into the plot and introduce the players. The only real "complaint" I might make is that the scifi elements are rather weak. There's no deep discussions of fancy technology, no battles through the depths of space, and the world is really quite like our own. However, all of this just allows the reader to focus more on the concepts being presented. Weighty matters like self and identity come up for a rare appearance in a scifi novel. The hokey elements are handled delicately enough that you don't even realize they're hokey while you're reading. By the end of the book, I found myself cheering for the unlikeable Ramón. The book is a well-contained novel that doesn't leave you hanging or really even wanting much more from the story.

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