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 --This text refers to the Mass Market Paperback edition.
With insight and intelligence, Barton (When Heaven Fell) describes a series of moral dilemmas with no easy solutions confronting Gaetan du Cheyne, his bored, troubled 26th-century protagonist. The fortuitous beneficiary of a stockmarket power play, du Cheyne becomes the proud owner of a faster-than-light prototype spaceship with which he plans to explore the starry skies. Wisely, however, Barton resists the urge to turn this into another celestial picaresque, creating instead a deeply disturbing tale of a young man whose past troubles stand in the way of his ability to know or do what is right. In fact, in spite of the spaceship device, Gaetan's journey is a psychological, not a physical one. The ethical challenges he faces all occur on the ironically named world of Green Heaven, where he must decide what, if anything, to do about the systematic destruction of the planet's intelligent species and his discovery of another species' own plans for humanity. There is an intense and intensely pleasurable display of erudition, writerly tact and hard psychological realism as du Cheyne confronts difficult questions about exploitation and survival, evolutionary reality and moral righteousness. There are no obvious answers, but there is a fascinating work of science fiction that easily rises above the stock-in-trade.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc.