Night Train To Rigel by Timothy Zahn
The central storyline is something like interstellar espionage. Yet, the narration by the hero was in a style that reminded me more of a Sam Spade-like character. It doesn't have the full flavor or banter of the Sam Spade-type stories, but perhaps enough to appeal to those who like that, and perhaps little enough not to turn away others. And the protagonist, Frank, finds himself lured into as twisted a tangle as Sam Spade would. The story certainly unfolds like a mystery, which is not necessarily at odds with espionage. Meanwhile, this is an interstellar romp with aliens, etc.
A dying messenger delivers a ticket for an interstellar trip to Rigel. The interstellar transportation system is run by aliens known as the Spiders. Once onboard and on his way to Rigel, the Spiders approach Frank to help stop an anticipated military attack. Frank had been in Earthís intelligence service until he publicly disagreed with a favored government project. He was recently hired by someone to do something Ė this is hinted at, but thatís it. He decides to accept the Spiderís offer.
Interstellar travel is by railroad trains going through some kind of space tunnel, allowing passengers to reach destinations many light years away in hours or days.† Iíve seen this general idea in at least one other novel, but not in entirely the same way.
Soon, the trains and stations he travels through are full of intrigue. Aliens who seem to be checking up on him, a human he knew from the intelligence community, a set-up to guide him to a certain obscure destination, another kind of alien showing interest, being knocked out and stuffed into a cargo crate, a missing submarine, people fascinated with a local form of coral, aliens and humans under some kind of control.† And the Spiders have teamed him with a woman who is clearly holding back information from him.
Itís well written, has a good pace and a ďpersonalityĒ to it.† I donít imagine it will ever be viewed as a literary milestone, but readers who appreciate this style should find it entertaining.
There is an element of telepathy and mind control that did not seem plausible to me. It plays a significant role in a way that makes me reluctant to go into more detail. However, it is an aspect that comes out later in the book after I had already become enmeshed in the story. Being otherwise satisfied with the story, I did not find as much distaste for the mumbo-jumbo as I might otherwise have.
It seems to me, there is a hierarchy to the plausibility of elements such as these.† While it may be unlikely that a certain ability will develop in some species, it is not necessarily impossible.† Just as the probability of finding the native plants of another planet are safe and nutritious for you to eat is low, a natural ability for species from distant planets to interact in any way is even less likely than the ability to do so with those evolved on the same planet.† As in so many other books, that is ignored here.