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Better Dead
SYNOPSIS
SPOILER WARNING
Casual readers should be aware that most of the synopses reveal the outcome of the story.
You read them at your own risk of spoiling the story.

Aleck was still a boy when they forced him to watch while they executed his brother.

Devastated by his brother’s death but, fearful of his sister’s loyalty and prevented from showing his grief, Aleck takes to lonely walks in the forest. He meets Emma Song, a feisty young freedom fighter, who introduces him not only to the delights of skinny-dipping but, more importantly, to Leading Light, a guerrilla organisation dedicated to the overthrow of the tyrannical government. Almost accidentally, he becomes involved in the assassination of the local district governor and is arrested. He is eventually released but his ill-treatment under questioning reinforces his anger and he becomes increasingly involved in guerrilla activities under the tuition of George Bayajida. He is taught to understand the politics of guerrilla warfare and how to resist torture – and he learns how to survive in the wild when on the run but, in the process, he is badly injured in a fight with a ‘dire cat’.

Nuclear weapons have been banned on Carmenta since before the Abandonment by Earth but the guerrillas learn that the government is carrying out secret research on their manufacture and Aleck acts as look out when Leading Light carries out an attack on the research facility – an attack in which some freedom fighters are killed because of their commitment to avoiding ‘enemy’ casualties. Later, with George’s prompting, he carries out a solo raid on a governor’s house and is caught, interrogated and tortured. He succeeds in disarming his tormentor but, in the subsequent fight to escape, he accidentally kills the man in a particularly horrible manner. He alternates between elation and remorse and Emma, now his girlfriend and confidante, helps him to come to terms with his feelings.

His awakening awareness of his own sexuality, and the tensions between his orthodox upbringing and the expectations of his aggressive sector leader, cause uncertainty and conflict in Aleck’s mind but he grows up through them, scarcely aware of the one but increasingly troubled by the other.

Aleck’s mentor, George, is captured by the authorities. He has always said that, eventually, everyone inevitably gives way under torture and Aleck’s sector leader orders him to leave his family and go into hiding in the wilds until he can make contact with another guerrilla cell that is responsible for running a safe house. The first volume ends with his reconciliation with his sister as he and Emma head for what they hope is safety in the forests.

Carmenta is an essentially Earth-like planet which was initially colonised by Earth and then abandoned four generations before the story opens. There has been no subsequent contact with Earth and the planet’s recent history has been characterised by technological regression and a descent into despotism. The unavoidable differences between Carmenta and Earth are generally unimportant and the aim has been to introduce them seamlessly into the narrative so that we feel as familiar with the local environment as are the inhabitants, all of whom have been born and have grown up there.

 
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