Chris Bunch,
Star Risk, Ltd.
(Roc, 2002)

Star Risk, Ltd. is an action-thriller set in space. It may be some undetermined time in the far-off future, but human characteristics -- greed, self-preservation, intimidation and sheer bolshieness -- are still very much in evidence! Chris Bunch has a knack of spare description that nonetheless leaves little unknown; he builds a solidly believable set of personalities, human and alien, and in so doing forms a lively core to a fast-moving, widespread story.

The formation of a "services for hire" firm by a disillusioned, out-of-work mercenary going by the alias of Von Baldur quickly becomes intriguing with the addition of a beautiful "been round the galaxy, bought the T-shirt" retired Marine and an elegant and intelligent researcher who brings more than just an air of class with her, as well as a 2.5-metre, 400-odd kilo furry friendly alien who puts Chewbacca in the shade; not only is Grok an electronics genius, but he is wealthy, speaks the accepted Basic tongue and is something of a philosopher!

This oddball outfit soon attracts attention as they spring from death row the cybernetically enhanced, terminally larcenous brother of the man most likely to contract their protective skills. This informed piece of forward thinking lands them in the hot seat, trying to sleuth their way through the dangerous layers of mystery shrouding the identity of interplanetary pirates who are actively discouraging asteroid mining in the Transkootenay system byy blasting, bombing and murdering successful miners!

The team of "goodies" are rough diamonds, with slippery morals and shady pasts, but compared to the destructive and acquisitive super-criminal, they positively shine with good intent.

There is good interplay between the naturally distrustful and somewhat abrasive characters in Star Risk, Ltd., but in a refreshing move, Bunch does not dwell on the seemingly inevitable sexual encounters of the handsomely unreliable Chas Goodnight, nor is the main female heroine, M'chel Riss, subjugated to any manoeuvres other than military or mental, despite a "Bond-esqe" opening. This is a very visual book, and would adapt well to the screen.

While it's most definitely not a "chick-fest," neither are the headlong chases and action-packed pages off-putting for the female reader. Those who are into militaristic science fiction should be well pleased at the strategies and combat, both mano a mano and aerial. We remain uncertain as to whether the enigmatic Jasmine King is an android or human, we are kept intrigued as to the identities of the villains until late in the book, and we are kept happy in the knowledge that the pivotal characters shall cross our paths once more on another tech-laden, high-speed, high-risk adventure in Bunch's forthcoming Scoundrel Worlds novel.

This is a series that is entertaining reading, neither too patronising nor too tasking after a day's work -- the balance between action and evaluation is as exacting as that of the daredevil on the taut wire. It's a satisfying read that should have broad appeal.

- Rambles
written by Jenny Ivor
published 14 June 2003

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