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The Man in the Tree
by Sage Walker
A Tor Book, 2017; HB $26.99, 381 pages
Published: September 2017

A death changes all.
Investigation stirs fear.
Who will sail to stars?

Kybele is the first, possibly the only, seed ship scheduled to depart Earth. The idea of pouring so much in the way of resources into a starship that may never reach a viable planet is stirring up a lot of backlash, even sabotage. On the other hand, so many are willing to take the risk that even hyper-qualified people have had to resort to a lottery to get berths, while temporary workers are petitioning for passage.

The persons selected to go have been carefully screened for psychological stability as well as essential skill sets. As the spaceship is readied, those on board are settling into the routines that will carry them across light years: mechanical maintenance, environmental systems management, research, raising families. Then a man from Navigation, Charles Ryan, is found dead, and it may not have been an accident.

The more senior Incident Analyst Helt Borresen investigates the details; the more the details add up it looks like murder and an attempt to make it look like suicide. But who would do such a thing? Navigators are highly trained essential crew, very hard to replace at the eleventh hour. That suggests an impersonal act of sabotage aimed at derailing the entire mission. But on the personal side, an ugly pattern is gradually emerging of the man's borderline behavior and his tricks for gaming the screening process to avoid being flagged. So then, was the death an act of preventive maintenance, of rough justice? If so, how can Helt uphold a code of justice that will serve the emigrants over decades, centuries of social evolution?

To make his task even harder, Helt is falling in love with Elena, the woman who was the target of Ryan's unwelcome attentions, and is the number one suspect, having motive, opportunity, and method ready at hand. It seems as if Helt will have to choose between loyalty to the truth or loyalty to love, and he will have to answer to the entire crew.  

Two images are in symbolic contention: the dead man found hanging in a tree, and a secreted representation of the Green Man adapted to the self-contained world of the ship. Which one will represent the soul of Kybele?

Part mystery, part hard SF that bristles with potential scenarios, past social science and part romance, this is superlative story-telling. Sage Walker joins the ranks of some of the best writers in the genre to have come out of New Mexico. ~~ Chris Wozney

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