Qwin is an agent of the Confederacy; a master spy and assassin. He is sent to the penal colony of Cerberus to infiltrate the crime lord’s syndicate and stop the alien subterfuge that threatens all of mankind. But there is a catch – the planets in the Warden system have a symbiotic microbe that infects everything living and inorganic. This microbe dies along with it’s host if it ever leaves the system. This is Qwin’s last mission – once he is on Cerberus, he can never leave.
Cerberus is the second installment of The Four Lords Of The Diamond quadrilogy. The Warden Diamond is a star system with four worlds that are equally hostile and habital. The system is infected with a symbiotic virus that permeates all living things. If the virus leaves the system it dies, and it’s host with it. For this reason the four worlds in the system are set up as penal colonies – there is simply no leaving.
Cerberus is an engaging read which has many surprising twists and turns. It has elements of post-cyberpunk and technoir to it, while being set on a fantastically unique alien world. Cerberus is an ocean planet where giant trees grow up out of the oceans, and the dense woody foliage rests above the surface of the water. These tree tops serve as the islands on which colonists live, forced to eke out livings through fishing or agriculture, while maintaining a sensitive balance with the tree. If the tree becomes sick or dies, then their whole island could collapse or sink.
The story is an intellectual read, as the main character plots and schemes his way through a strange society where people can swap bodies at will, or by accidentally, or by force. Themes like love and sexuality and gender, or even ethnicity or identity, become irrelevant as the only thing that truly matters on this world is what’s is inside. The only real defining characteristic trait is your individuality and your consciousness.
Published in 1982 this book almost predicts the way modern society will start to overcome it’s fixation with categorizing and labeling people and start focusing on the individual as what is important.
Amazing world building and socio-political structuring aside, this book has really great characters. You immediately connect to them and invest heavily in them, and experience all the highs and lows that they do through the course of the story. The spy/detective element makes this book even more enjoyable, as the deductions are logical and surprising and it keeps you guessing and trying to beat the characters to the punch.
This was my first foray into the writings of Jack L. Chalker (1944-2005) and it was thoroughly addictive. He has written many well received science fiction series and has been an instrumental figure in the genre of science fiction, through his stories and lectures. I highly recommend this book to anyone who has or has yet to read Chalker.
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