Crossing the Line by Karen Traviss

Karen Traviss’s interstellar saga of human and alien interaction continues in Crossing the Line, the sequel to her novel from earlier in 2004, City of Pearl. Traviss picks up the story of Shan Frankland soon after the ending of the previous novel, as Shan slowly realizes the full consequences of what happened to her in the closing scenes of City of Pearl. While the previous novel may have, for the mast part, been Shan’s story, Crossing the Line opens the gates and Traviss admirably fleshes out the supporting characters, lending a more epic weight to the story.

Everything Traviss brought to the table in her debut novel is on vivid display here – her ability to convey how, in a realistic manner, humans and intelligent alien life would interact. Again, here Traviss’s ability to draw fully realized characters that you can empathize with, if anything, is on greater display in Crossing the Line. The wess’har and humans relations are coming to a fine, crucial head. The strengthening relationship between the humans and the isenj is a complicating factor between the humans and wess’har. This benefits Eddie Machallat the most, the journalist who was sent with Shan Frankland’s unit in the previous novel. Like Shan, Eddie is now a permanent resident on Cavanagh’s Star, acting as a liaison between the various races and factions on the world. Great fiction allows the reader to examine their world through the lens of the characters in the work of fiction. In this case, Eddie can be seen as a representation of the media, the power the media can hold, and also, how under the umbrella of the media, there are individual people working to report the news and experiences. As a former journalist, Ms. Traviss has firsthand knowledge of just what a journalist experiences. This is a great example of a writer writing what they know and have experienced. Seeing Eddie’s character grow in stature, not so much mature, was a strong point in the novel.

While Eddie was a major character in the first novel, his point of view took more of the stage in this novel, in my reading. His interaction with the different races was played out very effectively, at times he felt he was getting accustomed to the aliens, but just as soon as a comfort level sunk in, he reminded himself these creatures, while intelligent, were most definitely not human.

While City of Pearl likened comparison to “sociological sf” of C.J. Cherryh and Ursula K. Le Guin, I couldn’t help being reminded of Octavia E. Butler’s Xenogenesis saga of books begun with the novel Dawn. The genetic manipulation and amalgamation of human and alien DNA for survival is reminiscent of Butler’s work, but the direction in which Traviss takes this point in different and as provocative.

In the character of Shan Frankland, there is much conflict, she is often torn between her feelings as a human and her responsibilities towards her newly adopted home world of Cavanagh’s Star. Shan holds something the people of Earth want to use as a weapon, something that if used as a weapon, could have disastrous effects on both human civilization and the world of Cavanagh. Again, Traviss uses the tool Science Fiction for providing the reader a way to examine a similar problem in our world through the fantastic. It is easy enough to compare the “weapon” Shan possess to nuclear weaponry, but really, it could just as easily stand in for biological weaponry and chemical weaponry.

If City of Pearl was a novel of discovery and alien/racial boundaries, Crossing the Line is a novel of relationships. Another thing that comes more to the forefront in Crossing the Line is the whole theme of relationships. Since the characters have spent a novel together, characters like Aras and Shan develop an engaging believable relationship, considering the genetic make-up of the two characters. Eddie and Shan develop a stronger, more respectful relationship between each other, as well. By novels end, Traviss had me wanting more and left me with some bold surprises. Time will only tell where Traviss will take these characters and the burgeoning conflict between humans, isenj, wess’har and bezeri. One thing is certain, Karen Traviss is a writer fans of thought provoking science fiction should keep an eye one. If anything can be expected from her next novel and future work, she surprises, makes you think and tells a great story.

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© 2004 Rob H. Bedford

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