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Acts of Conscience by William Barton
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Acts of Conscience

by William Barton

Series: Starover

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Odd. Gets better as it goes along. Very much a book of its time perhaps. A space engineer gets a lucky windfall when his shares pay off, and he manages to realise a dream, and buy his own spaceship to explore the galaxy. However he fairly quickly realises that dreams aren't easily realised that way, and when his dream involves other people (women) they aren't as compliant as just buying something. Then he meets aliens in person for the first time. There's lots of sex, and lots of him thinking about sex. But also some very good aliens, and some thoughts about society. ( )
  reading_fox | Dec 27, 2015 |
Gaetan du Cheyne is a bit of a loser. A mechanic on starships, he's no randier than many a male, but he can't keep any of his many lovers. In fact, apart from the artificial intelligences inhabiting his spacesuit and work tools, he doesn't have any friends. But he does have a bit of luck when corporate intrigue and technological progress put one of the first faster than light starships in his possession.

He heads out to the colony world of his childhood dreams, Green Heaven. And there he finds a world of great beauty, women he wants to bed, his first friend, and aliens being hunted to extinction and exploited in other ways.

That the threatened aliens turn out to be sentient will come as no surprise given that the book is dedicated to H. Beam Piper's Little Fuzzy series which dealt with the same topic. The theme of exploitation, especially of a sexual nature, is something of specialty with Barton, so we get the dollies - little "cowgirl" aliens who look like small, velvet covered women, their pheromones and anatomy making them irresistible sexual toys for men. And it is this race, enmeshed in a terrible relationship with another sentient race on Green Heaven, and Gaetan's feelings about it, which are the moral pivots of this novel. Gaetan's alien friend, a rogue member of a race capable of a telepathic-like rapport with other life - including the ones they literally suck the life juices out of, turns out to have secret.

As above, so below. Gaetan's struggle to find the ethics of what to do for the sentients exploited by man turn out to be mirrored, in the novel's last quarter, by others considering man's fate.

Barton has been described as an author of nihilistic space opera. There is certainly, with vast interstellar wars, credible physics jargon, and superweapons aplenty, space opera here. And there is nihilism of a sort in that nothing is forever, all effort and accomplishment is doomed, all sentient life is ensnared by history and biology in a tragedy. But there is no ethical nihilism in that the novel calls for moral choices, acts of conscience.

Barton leaves a lot of external plot elements unresolved at story's end, but the novel isn't about outcomes. It's about whether one flawed man, Gaetan, is going to make a choice and what that choice will be. ( )
1 vote RandyStafford | Jan 11, 2012 |
I love Barton. I love his damaged, hyper-horny characters, his technology, and his science. A lot of people don't like Barton, but I think he rocks. ( )
  goblinbox | Feb 12, 2008 |
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0446605115, Mass Market Paperback)

Science fiction and fantasy have antiheros aplenty. Think Thomas Covenant, Frankenstein's monster, or Alex from A Clockwork Orange. Add Gaetan "Don't Call Me Gae" du Cheyne, the protagonist of Acts of Conscience, to the list. Gaetan is an ordinary, self-involved, maybe-misogynistic orbital mechanic. He drinks, obsesses about women (as objects of his impotent lust), and irritates people. But oh, how realistic Gaetan is--a masterful characterization by William Barton. In fact, Gaetan's thoughts are almost too human and scattered, and Barton relies on ellipses rather heavily ... when writing what's going on in Gaetan's head.

When Gaetan's forgotten investments turn him into the sole owner of a faster-than-light spaceship, he flees his pathetic life and heads to planet Green Heaven to seek out the adventure and excitement he's craved. Instead, his journey reveals only the intergalactic depredations of men just like himself--brutal rapes, senseless killing, eradication of cultures and ecologies. He also discovers an ancient alien civilization contemplating the eradication of humanity. What's an honest antihero to do?

Acts of Conscience received a special mention in the 1997 Philip K. Dick Awards. --Therese Littleton

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:21:48 -0400)

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