Science fiction as a genre seems to have a wary sort of affection for many-tentacled corporations running the world. On the small screen that means Fringe’s Massive Dynamic which (spoiler alert!) runs two parallel worlds; The Cape’s ARK, Palm City’s private police force overseen by Thomas Cromwell–er, Peter Fleming; the late great Firefly’s shadowy Blue Sun; of course the Widmore Corporation of LOST, which got a shout-out from 30 Rock this week (something I tried to tell Alec Baldwin look-alike Doug, but couldn’t because his Facebook has inexplicably disappeared); and in real life, Google.
What all this means is that Eric B. Thomasma’s SEAMS16: A New Home provides the reader a bit of dramatic irony when our hero Charlie Samplin goes to work for the Space Equipment Authority–an innocent-enough company with completely harmless employees who just happen to say things like:
“The universe is a huge place and the company has connections… everywhere.”
So maybe I added that ellipsis myself, but seriously–any self-respecting SF reader knows exactly what to expect from the SEA and it’s Maintenance Station #16: sinister plots, shadowy overlords, nefarious goings-on and all sorts of drama. The reader can see it coming a mile away.
Unfortunately, our hero Mr. Samplin cannot.
Charlie’s like a kid in a candy shop–tapped by a major corporation for a cushy job on a high-class space station. So what if he’s had a spotty employment record in the past, or isn’t much more than a technician? The Samplins deserve a break, and Charlie just takes it as a compliment when an innocuous employee comments:
“They’d already checked you out long before they made the offer. Don’t worry…”
Again, ellipsis mine. But I think you’re getting the picture.
Of course, this only makes Charlie more endearing in his naivete. At one point on his first tour of the station, when asked a question, the man literally raises his hand to answer. He’s a good student (let’s not get into the issue of his mysterious boss being an old professor), but his wife–Susan–is a little less rosy-eyed (as she says, “I have serious trust issues). Enter the class troublemaker.
Susan Samplin can’t articulate why, but from the moment she steps on-board SEAMS16, she senses something’s wrong. Their tour guide dissembles, no one knows the name of the Head of Service, and even the pastor admits he called up her on-planet church to, you know, surveil. Susan’s shrewd, but she’s also in love, and when she realizes how much Charlie wants this job–well, there’s no going back. It’s to infinity and beyond for the Samplins–or rather, to a shiny space station that seems far too good to be true. The Samplins run right into the arms of a corporation they depend on for the very air they breathe.
And we all know what to think about SF corporations.
Don’t stone me if this little summary sounds like a series of spoilers strung together. Technically, I suppose, it is, but you’ll get all this in the first two chapters alone. Thomasma writes excellent dialogue, and uses it to great effect in the early part of the book to set the stage for the later action. The Samplins’ station tour is a device for exposition–that’s pretty obvious–and the technical details, stats and background come fast and hot in a dense question-response format. But this doesn’t mean that this introductory section isn’t engaging in itself: the very questions they ask, and their reactions to shifty-eyed, dark-suited employees tell us a whole lot about our cast that sets the psychological stage far better than a description of trapezoidal rooms and docking bays.
And the story’s right in the line of mainstream science fiction.
SEAMS16: A New Home is available as an ebook from Amazon for $0.99