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Acts of Conscience [Paperback]

William Barton
3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
Price: CDN$ 16.25 & FREE Shipping on orders over CDN$ 25. Details
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Book Description

Jan. 1 1997
When space construction worker Gaetan du Cheyne visits the planet Green Heaven, he discovers a fascinating ecosystem whose intelligent life forms are being hunted for sport and exported as slaves by human colonists. Now du Cheyne must follow his conscience and try to rescue the natives of Green Heaven--or die trying.

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From Amazon

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.

From Publishers Weekly

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.

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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars Difficult, but good April 15 2004
Format:Paperback
I was impressed with When Heaven Fell, although the brutality in it, while not gratuitous, isn't easy to read. I appreciate the story line and characterization in Acts of Conscience, but there is even more brutality and cruelty than the other Barton book I've read. Again, it's not gratuitous, but I find it a bit painful to get through. Since it's not a film, it's less painful that watching Henry, Portrait of a Serial Killer or Reservoir Dogs, but you get the idea.
What kept me reading was Barton's plot and his genuinely likeable, if flawed, protagonist. Acts of Conscience describes the book beautifully. This isn't space opera, and although the protagonist is somewhat of a prisoner of his hormones, it isn't one of those teenage boy fantasy-type scifi novels, with lots of pointless sex that's incidental to the plot. Barton's book will actually make you think seriously about what it means to do the right thing. How often can one say this of a science fiction novel? If you can get through the ugly scenes, I recommend it. However, I wouldn't require it of any of my students.
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4.0 out of 5 stars The filth and the fury Sept. 23 2002
Format:Paperback
Born loser Gaetan du Cheyne wakes up one day and discovers that he's the owner of an experimental faster-than-light spaceship. He leaves his dead-end job for a tour of known space, visiting the alien worlds he has dreamt of ever since childhood. But things aren't rosy in our galactic neighborhood. Everywhere he goes he sees how mankind has enslaved and cruelly exploited every sentient species it has encountered. On the human-colonized planet of Green Heaven the situation is particularly bad. But wait! The Kapellmeisters, an ancient and powerful star-traveling race, have been observing our atrocities and are debating whether or not the cancer that is homo sapiens should join the company of the dodo and the Tasmanian tiger. They've got just the superweapon for the job, too. Meanwhile, on Green Heaven, Gaetan saves a slumming Kapellmeister from being killed by xenophobic street thugs and slowly realizes that he may be the only thing standing between humanity and extinction.
Typical skiffy hokum, right? Wrong. This book has something to say and it isn't polite about it. The picture that Barton paints of human nature and, more importantly, (male) human sexuality is NOT a flattering one. Looking at it will do you a power of good, though. And Gaetan, although not a very pleasant sort of chap, is as complex and contradictory a person as any I've encountered in more 'respectable' literature.
So. Four stars. A gritty, thought-provoking book only let down by a somewhat subdued ending.
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4.0 out of 5 stars WOW Dec 12 2000
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
I am sitting at my desk with my just finished copy of William Barton's Acts OF Conscience. After completing my first Barton book and I walked from my reading chair to my computer to buy any book I could find from him, been a long time since I have done that!
First let me say that I have read a lot of science fiction (a lot of science fiction) and many of the problems that I see brought up by the reviewers here plague science fiction as a whole, poor characters, overt sexuality, plot holes, on and on. To me the idea of science fiction is not to create high art such as Shakespeare or Hemingway but to ask the question "what if". I have seen this question raised by so many poor sci-fi authors again and again, mediocre stories with no point or plot. Acts of Conscience asks "what if" we can get through the next 600 years without imploding?? Will we still face the same problems as individuals? As a society? Will we still have the same flaws and shortcomings, and the same dreams? This is a dirty, gritty, dark, depressing and thought provoking spin on "what if". It is a great look at ourselves and the problems we are facing now.
Just as Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451of the 50's, Heinlein with Starship Troopers in the 60's or David Brin's Earth of the early 90's Acts of Conscience looks at where we are now as a race. Is acts of conscience as groundbreaking as the above mentioned classics you ask?? No, it is not that good. But I feel that Barton is heading in the right direction, one of his books someday may be of that caliber.
When I wish to read high art I will read Shakespeare or Hemingway not Barton. When I wish to read Good Science Fiction I will definitely include Barton on my list.
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5.0 out of 5 stars VERY FINE SCIENCE FICTION Dec 14 1999
Format:Paperback
ACTS OF CONSCIENCE by William Barton is another great novel by this writer, and I have read several of his, and he pulls no punches in his themes and styles. He is definitely my favorite science fiction author, easily surpassing 'greats' such as A.C. Clarke and his outdated space operas. Barton's novels dwell on the human condition and sexuality is not shortchanged or covered up or glossed over, as with most other authors. My favorite saying is: THE UNIVERSE DOES'NT CARE WHAT YOU THINK" seems to me to be a strong undercurrent in Barton's novels {and in ones he co-authors}. Don't read this book if ideas contrary to what you may have grown up with may offend you!
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2.0 out of 5 stars Disturbing commentary, borderline pornographic Sept. 11 1999
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
ACTS OF CONSCIENCE has an obvious message that is basically hammered into the reader at every opportunity. Certainly, no mystery there. Does it resonate? Well, not really. The sexual content reinforces the theme, but in a distasteful way. Obviously, that distaste is intended, but it is so blatant that the message becomes muted. Not exactly a bad novel, but not great either.
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