Lara Hart

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    The Company Man by Robert Jackson Bennett. Orbit '7.99

    Reviewed by Pauline Morgan

    Superficially, this novel would appear to be an historical crime set at the time of the rise of the unions in 1919's America. While it is that, it is also alternative world science fiction and although set in the past it has elements that could place it in any other era.

    Cyril Hayes is not a particularly prepossessing main character. He has a tendency to drink and visit the opium dens of Evesden. His problem is that if he spends too much time in the company of one person, their thoughts begin to leak across into his mind. This makes him a very useful tool to the McNaughton Corporation, the Company of the title. He can find out things others can't.

    Evesden, a port city on the west coast of America, has expanded rapidly due to the success of McNaughton. The Company has produced and provided the rest of the world with all kinds of technology from airships to guns, shaping the world slightly differently from ours, and has become wealthy and powerful within the political arena. Donald Garvey, a policeman and one of Hayes few friends, calls him to view a body fished out of a canal. If the corpse is a company man, the Company wants to know. Five weeks later, a trolley arrives at a station laden with the corpses of union men. Hayes, Garvey and Samantha Fairbanks (Hayes new assistant) have to piece together what has happened to prevent the city self-destructing.

    The Company Man is an unusual book in that it successfully manages to combine elements of a number of different genres. It is well written and the characters are plausible. Sometimes it is lacking in emotion; and although there are detailed descriptions in some places, those of the new technology are sparse. Worth reading.

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