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BSI: Starside: The Cause of Death Mass Market Paperback – Feb 28 2006

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Product Details

  • Mass Market Paperback: 480 pages
  • Publisher: Spectra (Feb. 28 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0553587269
  • ISBN-13: 978-0553587265
  • Product Dimensions: 2.7 x 10.9 x 17.4 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 358 g
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #2,318,767 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 5 reviews
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
Needs a "good parts version" July 18 2006
By Jonathan A. Turner - Published on
Format: Mass Market Paperback
_The Cause of Death_ is a pretty good 210-page novel.

Unfortunately, the book is 470 pages long.

Fortunately, the good part is the last half--not the first. The book ends up being an enjoyable read in spite of its serious editing problems.

The setup, in Chapter 1, is good. We're introduced to the fleeing George, given a hint at the bind he's in, and thrown into a good action scene. It ends on a nice little cliffhanger.

But then ...

We get a chapter or two of BSI internal politics, organization, and budget, which is totally irrelevant to the story, and delivered by a character who never shows up again.

We get a chapter that's mostly about the mechanics of starflight, which is totally irrelevant to the story.

There's a chapter about a message sent to our heroes, which is of no use to them and is totally irrelevant to the story.

We get a big lump of exposition about the Pax Humana organization. This *is* relevant, but we don't need to know this much this quickly. It would have been better to release this information in the course of the narrative.

There are a couple chapters in which secondary characters talk vaguely about their plots.

There's a crashing-spaceship scene. It's not bad in and of itself, but it doesn't develop into anything. There are no consequences, nor does it provide any real exposition.

Then our heroes hole up in a hotel for a chapter in which nothing happens. The nothing is described at some length.

And then ... on page 260... our heroes meet the aliens ...

And the story takes off! We find out why George is in trouble, and it's a doozy. We find out some cool stuff about alien culture and biology. We get a sketchy but interesting third character, an alien operative with his own agenda. We get a nifty intellectual puzzle.

There's a lot of talking in this section, but that's inevitable in this kind of tale. Allen keeps the conversation moving nicely. The clues are fairly planted. The ending is sufficiently foreshadowed, but a lovely twist for all that.

I don't know why Allen chose to pad out the book with non-story elements. Perhaps his manuscript came in way under its contracted length; this is evidently meant to be the first of a series. He would have been better served by fleshing out his main story, though. Add in a red herring or two, another crime, maybe an action scene involving the protagonists ...

Part of the trouble is the setup. The message that summons the BSI is garbled, and the detectives start out not knowing exactly what their mission is. I suppose this is an attempt to create tension in the first half of the book.

But this gimmick doesn't really have any effect on the plot. It could easily have been omitted. To make it work, we'd have to see the mission strictly through the agents' eyes--sharing their confusion--and they'd have to actually work at finding out what's going on. The reader would then share in the excitement.

Instead, we get the aliens' viewpoint. They know what's going on, but never mention it. They spend a couple of chapters talking their way rather stiltedly around the issue. This is the worst of both worlds! We readers get neither the thrill of discovery nor the tension of knowing something the main characters don't.

Allen has produced some excellent work in the past (_Farside Cannon_, _The Ring of Charon_). _The Cause of Death_ is not up to that level. But once the story finally starts up, it's quite a good read, particularly for readers who deman intellectual stimulation in addition to mere action. I have hopes that subsequent installments in the series will show more editorial discipline.
2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Uneven, but enjoyable Sci-Fi mystery Feb. 11 2007
By David - Published on
Format: Mass Market Paperback
Hey, it's hard to write Science Fiction mysteries. Very few authors can pull it off. I remember reading an old Larry Niven novel about a murder on the moon. It was one of his worst books. So, you have to hand it to MacBride for daring to leap into this arena. I have read a couple of other of MacBride's books over the years, with "Ring of Charon" standing out in my mind as a fairly decent novel. I was intrigued with his new book, the first in an obvious series, about a couple of futuristic FBI Agents handling crimes committed by Earthlings on other planets. The book is really two mysteries, wrapped into one. This does cause a bit of confusion and makes the plot rather uneven, but not fatally so. The first mystery is not so much a mystery as a plot contrivance. How do you charge someone for murder if committing the murder is acceptable under the law? I found that conundrum to be very interesting and I wished the author had stuck with that plot line a bit further. Instead, about half way through the book, an actual murder occurs and the book turns into an Agatha Christie novel.

This is not a bad thing, by the way, but it did cause me as a reader to change my understanding of the novel. It also disappointed me that the actual murderer was a bit too easy to deduce, although the method of the crime was quite clever. I look forward to reading other novels in this "series". This may be one of the few times that writing a series may actually be worth the effort, unlike most of the neverending novels that appear on the bookshelves these days.
Very enetertaining series May 4 2012
By Retired engineer - Published on
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
The BSI: Starside series is very entertaining and I have bought and read them all. Detectives in a sci-fi context. Very interesting characters and only minimal dependence on other books in the series.
Tighten it up, Allen! Nov. 4 2006
By Derek A. Wade - Published on
Format: Mass Market Paperback Verified Purchase
As another reviewer mentioned, there is WAYYYYYYY too much padding in this book. It's ridiculous that you are 264 pages into the freaking story before you even find out what the crime is. Why does it take 48 pages for a spaceship to crash?

And something only barely explained: BSI operatives are specifically explained as having the bare minimum of spaceship piloting training due to cost cutbacks. So how is it that their juvenile antics manage to successfully avoid the targeting skills of professional military technicians firing state-of-the-art ordinance at them?

Why Allen took the time to carefully mention that BSI Operatives are lousy pilots and then had them outfly anti-aircraft fire (which is designed to shoot down military craft) while flying a civilian ship (which would have about one fifth the maneuverability and acceleration of a military ship-- the craft that the anti-aircraft guns are DESIGNED TO SHOOT DOWN!) defies comprehension. It was an attempt to heighten the suspense that got old after the first twenty pages-- and then dragged on for another twenty-EIGHT pages before the anti-climactic ending of the scene.

Hemingway is rolling over in his grave right now. ("The spaceship crashed. In the mud.")

I purchased this book for the same reason you probably grabbed it: the idea of "CSI in Space." I thought it would be interesting to see today's TV-enhanced forensics through the eyes of science fiction. It's an aspect of Sci-Fi that has largely been ignored: the technological murder/mystery case. Unfortunately, the padding makes me want to literally rip about two hundred pages out of the book. (It sort of reminded me of "Men's Health" magazine; once you tear out all the advertisements you end up with about 1/3 the pages.) Add into the extra padding the sort of bad guy incompetence that Imperial Stormtroopers would be proud of, and we end up taking a good plot line and setting and turning it into a dull treatise on how NOT to tell a story.

I was extremely disappointed in this book, which looks like it is going to lead into a series. I think I'm going to give the rest a wide berth.

0 of 4 people found the following review helpful
exciting science fiction murder mystery March 1 2006
By Harriet Klausner - Published on
Format: Mass Market Paperback
In the far distant future when various races have colonized the stars, the BSI was formed to deal with human involvement in criminal cases outside the homeworld system. Agents Hannah Wolfson and Jamie Mendez are sent to Reqwar, one of the worlds colonized by the Pavlat, to escort a prisoner home. When they arrive there, they are greeted by troops who want to kill them; they barely make it to the surface alive.

An official tells them they were not sent to escort George home, but to observe his execution. His crime is that he refused to kill his adopted father Thelm Lantrall, the leader of the world. When a murder occurs, various alien races must work together to solve the homicide before civil war explodes.

The planet Reqwar and its inhabitants are described in colorful vivid detail so that the audience can easily visualize the planet and its occupants though that also slows down an exciting science fiction murder mystery. Fans of outer space police procedurals will enjoy Roger MacBride Allen's fine thriller containing realistic enigmatic alien races and two superb human cops struggling to deal with unfamiliar cultures in which the definition of what is a crime differ.

Harriet Klausner