Mainline, Deborah Christian

Tor, 1996, 374 pages, C$7.99 mmpb, ISBN 0-812-54908-2

I really wanted to like Mainline. After all, it’s a good SF thriller; full of explosions, double-crosses, sophisticated gadgetry and bisexual females… but the overall effect is more akin to ennui than to excitement.

In other words, “I just wasn’t in the mood, dear.”

The plot summary is promising enough: So in the far future, there’s this expert assassin named Reva. She’s got an advantage that other assassin would very certainly kill for: The ability to see, and travel to parallel realities. Is this a threatening situation? Quick check on the fourth axis: Yeah? Okay… Want to escape quickly? Exit by the orthogonal plane…

As the novel opens, Reva is used to this kind of stuff. Good at her job, she doesn’t have any friends (hard to keep’em when travelling across realities) nor any kind of moral fibre: He reaction to danger is to flee.

But, -ah-ha!- she soon hooks up with a girl called Lish and suddenly, it’s not so easy to leave a reality behind. (Meanwhile, Lish has problems all of her own. Like a few million dollars worth of debt, and two assassins with contracts on her life. But that’s later on.) A lot of potential there for a thoughtful exploration of tenacity and friendship: Actual execution is only fair, with moments of brilliance and others of mere adequacy.

(French-speaking readers will have no doubt noticed that Lish is pronounced much like the French equivalent to… nah…)

At 374 pages, Mainline is too long; a few subplots could have been axed, to be replaced by other threads if necessary. Characters are okay, and so is the ending. My lukewarm reaction to this book doesn’t mean that this is an inferior novel… just that subjective opinions can, and are, less than constant.

I felt that Reva’s almost-magical psi-power was a bit misused (a usual problem with psi-powers) but that the various gadgets were fairly imaginative, and sure to be stolen by some movie in the near future. Miss Christian (love the name 🙂 ) writes mean action scenes, once the reader is immersed in her prose.

I do not enthusiastically recommend Mainline, but neither do I really recommend avoiding it. Call it “a foreign movie” on the Sid-and-Nancy scale, and a “Borrow it if there’s nothing else to read” rating on the library scale.

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