I do like puns. There…I said it. But they need to be timely and clever. If you have to force it, they don’t work. That said…Frezza is obviously just getting started and the few puns that make it into this story tended to fall flat for this reader. His subsequent story “The VMR Theory” was ever so much better.
Ken MacKay is a crewmember on the spacefreighter Rustam’s Slipper when he meets Catarina Lindquist, an apparently down-on-her-luck spacer who’d been jettisoned on the planet by her last crew when she came down with a case of McLendon’s Syndrome. The syndrome has some very specific effects on the victims causing them to be casually characterized as a vampire. The Rustam’s Slipper is down a crewmember and safety rules being what they are the ship isn’t allowed to leave orbit with a full complement. So Ken finds himself with a new and unwelcome partner. Shortly after leaving orbit, one of the crewmembers comes down killed and stuffed in the cabinet under the kitchen sink…drained of blood. He left behind a printout of just what was McLendon’s Syndrome for the edification of the mostly clueless crew; casting a large spotlight on Catarina as the killer. Ken is mostly sure Catarina couldn’t have done it but the crew is adamant that she be locked up immediately. The biggest problem with this, in Ken’s view, is that everyone will let their guard down with a killer still walking about. So Ken appoints himself the detective, sure that he’ll be able to find the killer in due time. Along the way, a Rodent ship accosts the Slipper, firing on them while accusing someone of being a double-crossing rat. The crew’s efforts to deflect the hail of missiles has the happy effect of causing one of the missiles to turn back and destroy the Rodent ship. Unfortunately, their happiness at surviving the attack doesn’t last to the end of the story. Ken finally does identify the killer, in a haphazard way, with the help of Catarina who turns out to be an undercover cop on the trail of a smuggling ring. And that’s just the first third of the story.
What follows is a convoluted journey to find the actual ringleaders and stop a planetary invasion by an enraged fleet of Rodents. Ken and Catarina end up, of course, in a relationship which is made bittersweet by Ken’s inexplicable ability to end up in a worse situation over and over again; culminating in the distinct possibility that he’ll need to sacrifice himself to save a whole planet. And the nagging sense of something undone finding the smuggling ring’s leader before becoming the sacrificial goat, really preys on his mind.
This was a moderately amusing story and the plot was good. Some of the characterizations were a bit overdone, and not in a good way. And (this is important) it is not necessary to read this before reading the sequel “The VMR Theory” which was much better. ~ Catherine Book
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