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The Operative: A San Angeles Novel

Publisher: DAW Books, Inc.

In a dark future, where man has advanced in technology, but has not yet colonized any further than stations orbiting Earth, corporations have wrested control from the government and population has grown so dense that all of California has grown together... and up... to become a multilevel world where access to the upper levels is restricted to the ultra-rich and most of its inhabitants never actually see the outside, but live their lives in the lower levels, under artificial lighting systems called "ambients." Welcome to Gerald Brandt's San Angeles in The Operative.

It's hard to scrape by in the lower levels, even if you've got family. Kris Ballard used to have that, until they were killed and she had to go live with relatives, which turned out to be... not a good situation. Against all odds, however, she scrabbled out a living, becoming a Courier, which allowed her access to everything below level 6. Things were tough, but Kris was doing okay, until one fateful late night delivery thrust her into the game played by the corporations. One Courier trying to part with a package without parting with her life.

That was then. This is now. Kris impressed an anti-corporation organization called ACE enough to get recruited, becoming an Operative and getting her access to technology that would let her move much more freely between levels. Hell, she even left the city altogether, training in a secret facility in Canada. Unfortunately, ACE wasn't the only one that Kris made an impression on. She has made some enemies in the corporations by refusing to die and foiling large plans in which she was only supposed to be a small footnote. One of those enemies, in particular, holds her personally responsible for what he views as his ruination and will do whatever he can to get hold of her, using her love - another ACE agent - as bait.

The Courier was very much about a small, scared girl on the run who, through luck or skill, managed to at least limp away from a variety of really bad situations. The Operative presents Kris as a little more prepared, but still fresh out of training, as she takes the fight to the enemy to recover her true love and as she works with others, rather than being the loner we were introduced to in The Courier. However, old habits die hard and Kris has to wrestle with the urge to return to her wolf-pack-of-one mentality.

There are old favorite characters who make their appearances, such as Kai, the old Chinese restaurant owner who helps Kris from time to time, and Ian Miller, the ACE operative who Kris had fallen in love with. There are, of course, some new characters as well, such as Pat, an ACE agent who folded under the horrors she saw in the field and became the cook at the ACE training facility at which Kris was training. Pat had her issues and neither she nor Kris were very socially adept, but they found time to rock climb together and sort of respected each others' space.

When there's an attack on the training facility, Kris, Miller, Pat and company find themselves being pursued, attacked, and in Miller's case, tortured. It's up to Kris to rescue him, with her new ad-hoc partner, Pat, in tow. They'll need help, but Kai isn't exactly what he seems to be and his new "friends," the insurgents, are trying to revolt against the corporations, but manage to merely tip off the Corporation War. With their seeming disregard for the lives of anyone not in their group, Kris knows they can't be trusted... but can they be more beneficial than dangerous?

The one thing that threw me for a loop is that Kris has a name change, which as far as I can see, takes place completely outside of the text and is never referred to in either book, but in The Courier, Kris' last name is Ballard, while in The Operative, it's Merrill. Everything else about the story leaves little doubt that these books are both about the same Kris, but her last name is, quite simply, different in the books. I'm not generally good with names, so the simple fact that I even caught the swap might be saying something about how consuming these characters are, but I found myself wondering what was going on with the names, but apparently nothing was.

I had another case of wondering what was going on with regards to Bryson Searls, the scientist that invented the tech that allows faster than light travel - the thing that is single-handedly changing the very nature of life as they know it in San Angeles and plunging the corporations into a new Corporate War. He decides that he doesn't want to work for the corporations anymore, defects and goes planet-side, but has no street smarts and ends up briefly meeting Kris and then getting captured by another corporation and set up in another lab. While this scientist's actions can change everything, his story seems like a side story, taking a backseat to Kris' quest to rescue Miller. This may play a larger part in upcoming books in the series, but in The Operative, it felt like a bit of build up with almost no payoff; like it may have been better as its own short story.

Despite those last couple of gripes, I enjoyed both The Courier and The Operative a great deal and look forward to reading the next book in the San Angeles Novel series, The Rebel.

-Geck0, GameVortex Communications
AKA Robert Perkins

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