Fergus Ferguson, a large, redheaded man from Scotland by way of Mars, has made a “career out of chasing things and running away.” He’s running away from his past, for reasons that gradually become clear. But right now he’s focused on chasing something: an expensive, sentient spaceship, Venetia’s Sword, that was stolen from its makers by Arum Gilger, a criminal mob boss. This repo mission has led Fergus to Cerneken or “Cernee,” a haphazard space colony consisting of a ring station surrounded by a of hundreds of marginally-habitable rocks, metal cans and dead ships, all tied together with a web of cables, with cable cars running passengers between the various habitats. Here Gilger has his home base, one of the “big five” powers on Cernee.
Fergus has a plan and a secret method of taking control of Venetia’s Sword, shared with him by the shipbuilders. But things go wrong for Fergus right from the start, when he almost gets killed in a cable car explosion in the space colony. It looks like Gilger isn’t willing to share power much longer. Fergus allies with Gilger’s enemies, who have their own issues with the power-hungry boss, and puts his plan into play, but there are complications … including some mysterious aliens with their own agenda.
Finder (2019) is part heist story and part rescue mission, as Fergus finds that he needs to return to Mars to save a kidnapped young woman who’s being used as a pawn in one of Gilger’s plots. Fergus is a hero who’s still finding himself, carrying wounds from his childhood on Earth and his participation in a rebellion on Mars years ago. He comes up with farfetched but brilliant plans on the fly, and it’s great fun to watch him run various cons on his enemies. One creative plan involving foil wrap, sticky candy, tennis balls, and vibrating sex toys is a can’t-miss experience.
The brisk pace and almost non-stop action will keep readers engaged, but Finder has more depth than one might think from the plot description. The characters have interesting (and often mixed) motivations, and Suzanne Palmer has clearly put a lot of thought into her worldbuilding. Cernee is a complex setting, with memorable details like “flysticks” that enable riders to jet between the different habitats (Fergus manages to steal a flystick that fills the space around him with sparkles and glowing holographic cartoon images). The interlude on Mars shows us glimpses of a richly imagined society there as well, peeking around the edges of the main plot.
I’ve been enchanted by Palmer’s short fiction, especially the Hugo award-winning novelette “The Secret Life of Bots.” I was expecting the same type of whimsical humor here, but Finder is more of a straightforward SF action/adventure tale, which disappointed me, although there’s frequently humor in the dialogue and descriptions.
Everyone stood as a woman strode into the room, visibly armed, dressed in a spotless Authority uniform with no rank insignia except a yellow X embroidered on the stiff upright color. She was short even among Cernee natives but built like a tank, if tanks were constructed entirely of muscle and disapproval.
Finder is an imaginative and action-packed tale. The ending leaves a few open questions, like, what are those aliens planning anyway? And why did they do … that particular thing they did to Fergus? There’s plenty of room for more adventures and exploits to come for Fergus Ferguson, and Palmer has more books in this series in the works.