Soulless collaboration driven by action alone (2/5)
Two names: one well-known editor, the other a well-known author; one synonymous with Asimov magazine and “best-of” anthologies, the other forever linked to hard-boiled detective stories in a seedy arabesque atmosphere (When Gravity Fails , A Fire in the Sun , and The Exile Kiss ). On the face of it, the collaboration is unusual; granted, they are both authors, a cooperative effort to produce a novel seemed unlikely. They’re both Hugo and Nebula Award nominees, but the dual effort of the authors doesn’t produce anything wholly distinct, nothing tangible from Dozois's inclusion but Effinger imparts an investigative overlay… which begs the questions the obvious question: Why? Perhaps because it was Dozois's first novel?—one of only three.
Rear cover synopsis:
“What was Nightmare Blue?
The alien Aensalords had developed it. They alone knew is source. But already its effects were visible on Earth—in stark, raving eyes of the hopelessly addicted…
Two agents set out to find that source: Jaeger, the last private detective in a peaceful world of the future … and Corcail Sendijen, the lobster-like alien enslaved by the Aensas.
Not only Earth’s fate was at stake. The Aensas had bigger plans. If Jaeger and Sendijen could not stop them, they would use the most horrifying drug ever known to destroy the universe!”
Things got off to a rocky start between the humans and the Aensas around Mars; Hostilities were engaged, ships were destroyed, and lives were lost, yet, according to the common man, some common ground was found. The enigmatic alien race was given a plot of land in Germany with which they could do as they please, the only stipulations were something about minerals and secrecy.
The reader gets two perspectives on the Aensa aliens: one perspective from the inside of the enclave through the eyes of a tentacled alien spy and another from the hired hand of a human.
The tentacled alien spy, Corcail Sendijen knows the diabolic method of their extrasolar conquests, their heartless dominance of numerous systems, and he knows first-hand of their brutal use of slaves. He's planted himself in the enclave to understand the secrets of their control over Earth. His compatriots are aboard Aensa ships orbiting Earth, awaiting the signal to attack their overseers. Corcail's mental prowess comes with years of training so that he's able to influence minds and read intent. The target of his inquiry is the deep tunnels with curious ruts.
The craftily penetrating investigator, Karl Jaeger, also wants to learn the secrets of the Aensa stronghold; however, he's a hired-hand and his employers are keen to learn about the towering castle. As the last private investigator, Jaeger is in high demand from wealthy clients with nebulous intentions—Jaeger just does what he's told depending on how much he's paid. His luxurious office houses a private scientist who provides Jaeger with some savvy tech. But it's not quite perfect yet.
What transpires through the two converging narratives is the secret with which the Aensa are able to dominate entire species through their guile. They are able to manipulate the wills of the leaders or simply quash those who stand in their way in a painful, irrevocable way. The secret drug is known as Nightmare Blue and its addictive effects hold the injected victim in need of recurring doses, which are only supplied by the Aensa; without the recurring dose, a painful death ensues.
Corcail is a silent force within the Aensa castle/compound. He mimics stupidity like many of the other slaves which inhabit the castle and perform as their lords command. Using his powers of the mind, he establishes a series of on-command outbursts of violence from the other slaves with weaker mentalities. Meanwhile, Jaeger is piecing together the puzzle of Aensa's control over humanity, the destiny as a species, and their world. The more he discovers, the more his life is threatened, and the more he knows he must vanquish the infidels.
The Aensa are a neurotic race of aliens. They have a hierarchical social structure, similar to India's caste system, and they refuse to automate much of their industry, including that of Nightmare Blue. They have a thirst for control, for domination, for weakening the will of the individual and the race. Their physiology is that of a hunter: darkly clad, acutely sensed, and pinpointedly driven by the instinct to seek, maim, devour—though the primal instinct used to refer to eating flesh, the modern drive is the dominance of species on a galactic scale.
This whole alien affair is mildly interesting and I set in the background of the more scintillating hard-boiled investigation of Jaeger. This plot is driven by chase scenes, gun fights, explosions, fist fights in a bathroom, etc.—it's all very action-oriented and feels more like an adventure novel which lacks any density other than the inertia of its action. It might all just be a pointless exercise in a collaboration, the fruit of which never grew.