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Wednesday, December 5, 2012

"High Stakes" by Naomi Kritzer

Fantasy and Science Fiction, November/December 2012

This is a sequel to "Liberty's Daughter"; however, you didn't need that story to read this (although you may briefly wonder what you missed out on).  Rebecca, the teen-aged narrator of "High Stakes," lives on Seastead, a chain of man-made islands off the California coast, where each has its own rules.  As a teenager, Rebecca is one of the non-citizens of these islands, Minimum, where citizens have to buy their citizenship after being a bond-worker, working against their debt.  However, only two workers have bought their citizenship.

A Hollywood reality show comes to the island and Rebecca is made an assistant to Janet of the show.  Her job is to recruit bond-workers to sign on and to get citizens to give away themselves.  The recruited workers, meanwhile, do not trust the show, expecting gladiator contests, etc.  They use sign language to carry on private conversation.  Things take a turn for the worse when Tom, a worker, twists his ankle and wants medical care, but it was a pre-existing condition and not covered.  The workers band together and refuse to talk until they all have medical coverage.  Miguel, however--perhaps a ring-leader for the bond-workers--winds up dead.

This series appears to wrestle with various political ideologies for states, using each island as an experimental cauldron.  "High Stakes" grips you, but the ending trails off, in need of a sequel.  As part of a novel, this is an intriguing sampler; as a novelette, disappointing.  Still, readers will be eager to read the next installment, not to mention the first if they missed that one as well.

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