Disappearing Act (Margaret Ball)

3.5 out of 5 stars

Cut to the Chase:
Disappearing Act is a big, imaginative, sprawling, hi-tech sci-fi fantasy novel.  The story does a good job of taking you through several interesting politically and technologically diverse societies before ending in a fairly satisfactory fashion.  My only complaints might be that it is quite long, has a lot of characters, skips around a bit, and gets a bit slow in places.  It doesn’t really qualify as hard sci-fi as there isn’t a lot to really think about in the story as you are constantly shuttled from one viewpoint to another without having the opportunity to reach your own conclusions; the bad guys are very clearly bad and the good guys are quite clearly good.  It really isn’t a good book to plow through in a rainy afternoon or evening, as it’s simply too big (425 pages in the paperback edition).  Despite all this, I found reading it a very enjoyable experience.  Sometimes you just want to sit down and read a big complicated story, and I would recommend Disappearing Act for this purpose wholeheartedly.

Greater Detail:
Maris is a destitute young petty criminal who has lived her whole life on a space station.  Eventually she is forced to leave her home and assume the identity of an interstellar diplomat, something like a cross between James Bond and Superman, in order to protect her own life.  As she follows the orders of the identity she has assumed, she starts to unravel a vast interstellar conspiracy that will shake the foundations of the entire interstellar empire.

If you like big sprawling sci-fi novels, you will probably like Disappearing Act.  It really could use some editing, as I’m not sure that the myriad characters are beneficial or even necessary;  the universe is detailed and expansive enough that you could get lost in it without this dizzying array of different, often disposable, viewpoints.  The other flaw with this multitude of perspectives is that you often find yourself abandoning a character that you were interested and invested in to find yourself saddled with seeing the world from the perspective of a character you couldn’t care less about.  Personally, I am a lot more interested in the trials and tribulations of a space secret agent abandoned in the first act than the pedestrian lives of at least three bland bureaucrats we end up following closely.

Even with the overabundance of characters, the story actually does move well and managed to hold my interest all the way through the lengthy book.  Although I could have done without quite so many characters, at least the uninteresting ones disappear relatively quickly.  Pretty much everything relating directly to the protagonist moves well and forms a nice, quick moving core to the story, which the other, less interesting, slower moving parts sort of revolve around.

The technology and world building for the environment are solid, if not entirely novel.  If you are looking for a bizarre and stupefyingly alien world, you had best look elsewhere.  In general, the novel feels more like the genre I have come to think of as standard post-faster-than-light-travel humans only future.  It’s not revolutionary or thought provoking, but it’s quite comfortable and consistent.  You aren’t going to have any huge surprises here unless you are completely unfamiliar with modern sci-fi, but the author includes enough distinct touches to make the world feel authentic and absorbing, if not inspiringly original.

Comparisons to Other Authors:
Iron Sunrise by Charles Stross has a similar feel and a similar protagonist, but succeeds in most of the areas where Disappearing Act comes up short, so of the two, I’d recommend the former.

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Posted in Sci-Fi/Fantasy

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