My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I’d heard good things about this one, running up to the Hugo nominations, but didn’t end up having time to read it before the voting deadlines. It’s a good, solid science fiction story – very idea-oriented, but not to the detriment of the plot. There are actually two ethical concepts that Egan asks the reader to consider here.
One is that referred to in the title; and has to do with the ethics of endangering the ‘few’ when the lives of the ‘many’ are threatened. It’s a dilemma familiar to most sci-fi fans, as well as ethicists, but the scenario drawn here is an original and dramatic twist on the theme.
The other idea that the bulk of the story deals with is the question of whether it is wise or justified to hold one group of citizens responsible in some way for the situations and/or responsibilities of the past. On this colony world, one political group dominates a minority, using justifications from the founding of the society to demand reparations – and, in the process, creating a toxic environment in which the seeds of persecution thrive. The situation is different enough on many levels from that of our own society for it to avoid polemic and allegory – while succeeding in being very thought-provoking, showing how small and seemingly insignificant demands can contribute to a zeitgeist, snowballing out of control.
Thank to Subterranean and NetGalley for the opportunity to read. As always, my opinions are unaffected by the source of the book.