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Book Review: The Icarus Twin, by Timothy Zahn
Zahn returns to the Icarus universe to play an 8-sided game of chess
Timothy Zahn never fails to deliver a superlative work of science fiction. His Icarus series is no exception. The Icarus Plot was an intricate spy game, with several sides playing a long game as they all try to manipulate each other.
Now, this is almost simple in comparison, as Timothy Zahn has another eight-sided chess game that centers around murder.
In a universe where transportation is subsumed by the Paath monopoly, Gregory Roarke and his partner Selena have been hired by the Icarus program to find interstellar gates that allow instantaneous transportation between any two points in the galaxy. But when a conman and thief named Easton Dent continuously searches for “Gregory Roarke” and “Icarus,” everyone wants to hunt Dent down. The con man will only make contact with Roarke.
But when a body drops near the contact point, with Roarke’s wallet near the corpse, the problems expand exponentially. The Paath are after the portal. Roarke’s old mob boss employer is after Roarke and Dent. Icarus has secrets of its own, and playing its own long game. On top of everything else is Easton Dent’s brother, Weston—an omnipresent threat that always watches Easton’s back. Worst of all: The badgemen are after Roarke for the murder of Easton Dent.
Not only does Timothy Zahn weave an intricate tale of espionage and murder, it it put together so brilliantly that you feel smart just for getting the answers ahead of him. The mystery author John Dickson Carr was once described as waving the clues in front of the reader’s face the entire time, but the story runs so fast that no one catches them. Zahn is the science fiction equivalent of that.
With The Icarus Twin, Zahn seems to be playing an 8-sided game of chess, but no matter how labyrinthine the plot seems to be, Zahn always plays fair, and explains everything with such crystal clarity that the endings are always satisfying.
Since this is Zahn, he established everything quickly and efficiently, summing up an entire novel of intricacies and backstabbing into a few lines. Zahn writes so well, I almost hate him a little.
Before the reader even gets to 10% of the way through the book, Zahn has written an intelligent, fast-paced thriller that has all the spy craft of a La Carre, and all the speed of a Mickey Spillane.
The nice thing about all of this is that, unlike some murder mysteries and spy novels, Timothy Zahn will always play fair with the reader, to the point where the reader may figure out what’s going on before our heroes.
Despite even throwaway scenes having wheels within wheels, Zahn delivers a brilliant, complicated story so well-written, you will never lose track of what’s going on, or who all the players are. But the funny thing is that there are no throwaway scenes.
The entire novel is told from Roarke’s perspective, and it is a doozy. Spy novels will talk about the wilderness of mirrors. Roarke practically lives in a Mordor of mirrors. When he comes up with an outlandish plan, he seems to have two dozen more up his cybernetic sleeve. He doesn’t have a plan D, he will have a plan M. Roarke never stops playing three-dimensional espionage chess, and it’s a joy to watch his mind work.
Rourke thinks things through so thoroughly, he even makes decisions about what gun he will use, depending on what message the gun sent.
Of course, the endless sayings from his father always lighten to mood (it helps that I read them in the voice of James Garner playing Maverick). I await the day that we get to meet his father, because I suspect he will steal a whole novel, just by showing up in the last five pages.
It helps that Rourke is a smartass—at one point, he identifies himself and Selene as Doctors Moriarty and Watson.
Roarke’s partner Selene is interesting in that she’s an alien who thinks enough like Roarke that she can communicate whole paragraphs to him in one line of dialogue.
Then there are the Dent brothers, one of whom is a genius-level conman. Like John Le Carre’s antagonist Karla, Dent takes up a lot of this book, no matter how little screen time he has compared to everyone else. Even his introduction tells the reader that this is not someone to mess with.
Murder mysteries are a great way to explore a universe, because clues are only interpreted in light of cultural elements and assumptions. And here, we get a lot of exploration among the various and sundry alien races going around, whether it be the Paath or the Narchan, or even the various subcultures of each planet. Every piece of information fits into the overall problem, and leads both Rourke and the reader to the ultimate conclusion.
This part is self explanatory
Who is it for?
If you want the best of John le Carre’s spycraft (with cybernetic arms), the mystery talents of John Dickson Carr, and the twisty planning of Mission Impossible or Leverage, you should be reading The Icarus Twin. Rourke looks like Han Solo meets Sherlock Holmes.
Oh, yes, and if you were ever a fan of Raffles, you will probably enjoy the Dent brothers.
Why buy it?
If you enjoy fast-paced, murder mystery sci-fi that will never talk down to you, you will love The Icarus Twin.