the Little Red Reviewer

The Kassa Gambit, by M.C. Planck

Posted on: November 2, 2014

kassa gambitThe Kassa Gambit, by M.C. Planck

published in 2012

where I got it: borrowed

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If you enjoyed the TV show Firefly, or have been enjoying the James S.A. Corey Expanse series (Leviathan Wakes, Caliban’s War, etc), then The Kassa Gambit is for you.

 

Starting off with a bang,  the crew of the Ulysses exit node space in the Kassa system to find mines and missiles waiting for them. Luckily, Captain Prudence Falling has a smart crew, and a freighter ship that’s got some hidden additions.  They outsmart the missiles, land on Kassa to learn the entire planet has been bombarded by a mysterious enemy that showed up out of nowhere, bombed the crap out of the place, and left without a word.  When the government patrol boat Launceston enters the system, Falling helps them through the mine fields, and doesn’t want to stick around long enough for the Launceston’s League Agent Kyle Daspar to use his governmental powers to commandeer her ship too.  She’s interested in helping the people of Kassa rebuild, but under her own terms, not those of the League.

 

Daspar has secrets of his own, and one of them is that he’s intensely suspicious and paranoid.  The mission he’s really on isn’t the one he’s talking about, and for a while he’s convinced that Falling is an agent out to kill him.  What changes his mind is the way Falling treats her long term crew members. She’s tolerant of Garcia’s crassness and alcoholism, and she’s maternal and protective towards Jorgun, who is an idiot savant. Jorgun can program the nav computer faster and more accurately than an AI, but he’s got the mental development of a five year old. Falling knows Jorgun’s skills, and she also knows how others would treat him, and what the League would do with him if they got their hands on him. When not running Nav, Jorgun is happy doing jigsaw puzzles, playing games, and watching cartoons. He’s the ship’s gentle giant.

 

As the Kassa investigation continues, a crashed alien ship is found, and Prudence and Kyle follow different tracks towards the answers.  Their paths cross again, and there is some obvious chemistry growing between the two of them. They are both physically attracted to the other, but they mutually agree that the timing couldn’t be more inconvenient.  They do decide to work together to uncover the mystery of what attacked Kassa.  Prudence has an augmented ship and knows the shipping lanes and node jumps like the back of her hand, and Kyle has the government connections to get their all information they could possibly need. Now it’s just a matter of putting all the pieces together.

I adored the first two thirds of The Kassa Gambit. The characters are smart as a whip and have motivations that make sense, the science is spot on (the discussions about velocity and mass in space, especially),  and the pacing is just perfect. Prudence especially has some fantastic characterization, she gives up a few secrets about where she was born, and her parents, and why she left, and that she’s not running away but running to something. I wanted to learn more about her.

 

However, around that two thirds mark, things began to get problematic for me, and for poor Prudence Falling.  You see, I finally noticed at this point that she is the only woman we meet in the book.  That, in and of itself isn’t problematic, but how other characters in the book treated her was.  It’s mentioned that sometimes she has Jorgun pretend to be the captain of the ship while she feeds him lines to say over the com, because sometimes they run into people who wouldn’t accept or respect a female captain.  So, this is a future world where we’ve colonized planets and learned to hop through node-space, but a female freighter captain is still considered unusual?  Is this really the future?  She also appears to be the only female in the galaxy, as we never meet another woman, and men that she does meet are often unsure how to interact with women.

 

One scene in particular really, and I mean really got my hackles up.  I will try to be vague, so as to not spoil too much.  There is a scene where Prudence and one of the guys on her ship are captured by some other guys.  Prudence and her crew-mate are stripped of their clothing and thrown into the brig.  The scene suddenly becomes about the guards threatening to rape Prudence. The guy she’s with gets punched a few times, but the male guards leer at her, slap her ass, talk about what they are going to do to her, draw straws about who is going to go first. No one talks about humiliating her male crew-mate.  What they are interested in doing with female prisoner is obviously very different from what they are planning to do with a male prisoner, and in fact it seems like these male guards haven’t seen a woman in a really long time (again, is this the future?).  I have to wonder if this scene would have played out differently if any of the guards or anyone on the other ship, for that matter, had been female.  Would the rape conversation gone on as long as it did?  I found the whole situation incredibly problematic.   It’s as if none of the men Prudence interacts with have ever interacted with another adult woman, and that struck me as completely unrealistic in this style of space-faring future world.  For a science fiction story that takes place in the future, it sure felt old fashioned.
I recommend this book with reservations, and if M.C. Planck wrote another book starring Prudence Falling, I would pick it up, also with reservations. Because I really did enjoy the premise of the story and the characters and the pacing.  It’s unfortunate that my issues with the end of the book came to overshadow my enjoyment of the beginning.

5 Responses to "The Kassa Gambit, by M.C. Planck"

My thoughts on his most recent release were not all that positive. I seem to recall calling him out for a woman’s place in that world as well; including an alluded to attempt at assault within the first ten percent of the book.

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that’s too bad. i was hoping my issues with how he handled women in Kassa were a fluke.

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I was thinking of your review as I read this one. Maybe read some Kameron Hurley to cleanse the palate?

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I’m having a good time with Robert Charles Wilson’s Burning Paradise, and have picked up a collection of essays on the state of science fiction publishing and craft. Good stuff, and palate cleansing, both of them.

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That sounds infuriating. I’m noticing it more and more when there aren’t very many women in a book or when the women are all cardboard/treated like objects/don’t have much agency. Some really fantastic and entertaining books just do so poorly with how they treat their women characters! I hope this series gets better, or that you find another one that does more justice to half the population.

– Kritika @ Snowflakes & Spider Silk

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some of the books reviewed here were free ARCs supplied by publishers/authors/other groups. Some of the books here I got from the library. the rest I *gasp!* actually paid for. I'll do my best to let you know what's what.
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