Reviewed date: 2023 Jan 28
The Beta Hydri beacon
Jeremy White is investigative journalist for Solar News. His boss Gavin Cross gives him an assignment. The sub-ether beacon from the Beta Hydri colony has been silent for forty hours. The authorities fear the worst: all five hundred colonists are presumed dead. Sending a starship to investigate is phenomenally expensive so it will be weeks before the colonization program decides to commit the resources to mount an expedition.
The real story is Kit Carew
Cross tells Jeremy that the famous author Kit Carew was on Beta Hydri. The secretive Carew is famous for his teletapes documenting the hazardous and exciting frontier life in the colonies, but despite his fame his true identity is a secret. Never mind the five hundred dead colonists. The big story is Kit Carew. Jeremy's job is to find out everything about Carew, not least his true identity. "Dead men have no privacy," Cross says.
And there's another angle. Cross introduces Jeremy to Stephen Morgan, a United Nations Special Branch agent. The UN thinks the Beta Hydri colony was sabotaged, and they think Kit Carew did it. Morgan tells Jeremy to start by looking up Christopher Carew Crane.
Abigail Crane of Triple-C
Kit Carew seems an impossibly thin pseudonym for Christopher Carew Crane, but Jeremy follows the hunch directly to the Crane family of Crane Chemical Company (Triple-C). He scores an interview with Abigail Crane, who confirms that Kit is her brother. Abigail invites Jeremy to have lunch with him in her penthouse garden, which they eat while naked, because apparently that's a totally normal thing in the future.
Jeremy is a hack journalist
Jeremy White is purportedly the best investigator Solar News has, and Solar News is a legitimate news outfit, so it's astonishing that Jeremy's modus operandi is to offer his interviewees the right to review and approve any article before publication. He tells Abigail Crane: "I can say this, on my behalf and I can pledge Solar News on it, because it is that kind of business: that nothing you've told me will be released in any form until you've had the chance to see and approve."
What kind of reporting is that! Maybe Jeremy knows nothing about journalism and his boss Gavin Cross is too stupid to notice. Or maybe author John Rackham doesn't care enough to bother getting basic details right—details like the main character's job, the job that is the primary plot device driving the storytelling. I don't know much about journalism but even I know that no reputable news outlet is going to give its sources veto power over stories.
Fanny Allen, heiress
Abigail tells Jeremy who Kit's publisher was, so Jeremy pays a visit to Barnaby Green, purveyor of fine smut. Barnaby knows that when Kit is on Earth he spends his time with rich heiress Miss Frances "Fanny" Allen. With help from Lissa Landis, secretary at Solar News, Jeremy gets an introduction to Fanny and her latest boy toy, playboy Miguel Da Cost Santana.
Fanny and Santana both know Kit personally, and are distraught and in disbelief that he's dead. Santana has a private yacht, the Quest, and he decides to travel to Beta Hydri to see for himself. He offers passage to Jeremy, Lissa, and to Abigail Crane. Also coming along are Fanny and steward Geoffrey Cartier (secretly a UN Special Branch agent.) The crew consists of Captain Broz, First Officer Haskell,, medical officer Dr. Burton, Chief engineer Braden, and three power men who work for Braden.
The trip to Beta Hydri takes forty hours.
Now, I don't wish to complain yet again about the problems with this story, but surely if a rich playboy has a space yacht that can bop over to Beta Hydri in forty hours on a moment's notice, then this is not a super expensive or difficult trip. We also find out that large supply missions go out to the colonies regularly, although because they are large the trip takes the freighters seven days. So the statement in the first chapter—that it would take six or even weeks to even begin mounting an expedition—is baloney. This story isn't even internally consistent.
Jeremy White is an investigative reporter for Solar News. He's not James Bond. And yet, every single woman in the story throws herself at him. Lissa Landis, Fanny Allen, and Abigail Crane. It's bizarre and odd. Jeremy ends up falling for Abigail, which is ridiculous and absolutely seals it as far as his incompetence as a journalist goes. You don't get married to your source! Gavin Cross should fire him.
A plot oddity: forty hours
Jeremy notices something. Quest will make the trip to Beta Hydri in just forty hours. The beacon from Beta Hydri had been silent for forty hours when the news broke. Forty hours. Forty hours. He figures it out! The disaster that happened on Beta Hydri was deliberate, and whoever did it went to Beta Hydri on the Quest. That means Santana was involved.
THAT MAKES NO SENSE AT ALL.
Robber baron conspiracy
It ends up being true. It was Santana after all. Santana is not just a playboy, he's connected to the Negocio Brazilia group. The big money (that is, Negocio Brazilia, the Allen family, and if they can bribe or blackmail Abigail Crane into joining them, Triple-C as well) wants to keep the colonies dependent on Earth. These companies make money selling supplies to the colonization project.
"a lot of wealthy people get a lot of their wealth—and their power—from supplying the captive market of the colonies. Government contracts, Liss. Real big money. Big people, too. Like the Allen family… and Negocio Brazilia. And Triple-C. To name just a few."
Everything is part of a conspiracy to make colonies seem dangerous and dependent on supplies from Earth, because if the colonies become independent of Earth, the companies that supply the colonies will lose big government contracts. Kit Carew's frontier propaganda helps paint that picture. The destruction of the Beta Hydri colony drives it home. But it's actually sabotage, and Kit was involved.
Abigail Crane won't join the conspiracy, even if it means losing profits. Her love for Jeremy and her integrity won't let her do that. And agent Cartier shoots Santana, so that's taken care of. As for Kit Carew, he was injured while releasing the chemical weapons that killed everyone on Beta Hydri. Dr. Burton has been secretly caring for him on the Quest ever since. It's not enough though: Kit dies.
Jeremy and Abigail get married.
I hate this book so much.