Danger Money, by John Van Stry – book review by Fred Patten.

by Patch O'Furr

Submitted by Fred Patten, Furry’s favorite historian and reviewer.

Danger Money, by John Van Stry
Seattle, WA, CreateSpace, March 2012, trade paperback, $7.49 (206 pages), Kindle $2.99.

Jotun is a leopard animorph. His narration depicts Danger Money as set in a future interstellar society inhabited by humans and animorphs. The morphs started out as laboratory-bred, but many are naturally freeborn now. The morphs that are lab-made are mostly trying to buy their freedom from their corporations. There is some human prejudice against the animorphs depending upon which planet they’re on, but it isn’t strong.

“At about one in the morning local time I became instantly wide-awake as my target entered the restaurant, passing through it to the bar. Using my monocular I tracked him carefully, he was in the company of a very attractive human lady, obviously not staff, with an attendant female skunk morph who just as obviously was. […]” (p. 5)

“A young squirrel walked up, smiled at her [Azelett, a leopardess], ignored me, took the keys and drove off.” (p. 12)

“I did notice two very cute ladies giving me the eye during this time. I had also been keeping a watch on the good captain as I had plans for both of them.

The first was an older black leopard who was very aggressive about letting her wants be known. When we were four hours from breakout I hacked the computer and got her schedule changed. When she got back to her room wondering why she was off duty she found me laying on her bed smiling.

We had a very enjoyable time then. […]

The other lady was a gazelle of all things! She was pretty kinky too. Most leaf eaters don’t associate with us predator types. Especially ones whose genetically based ancestors were prey of my ancestors. I think she had a pretty good suspicion of what kind of work I did for the company too.

But the strangest part was that she wanted to be tied up and dominated. […]” (p. 19)

“I flicked my tail over and batted her nose with it while giving her a smile.” (p. 31)

“I caught another whiff of her scent on the breeze. She was scared and smelled it.” (p. 53)

Jotun is an assassin. He was bred to be. It’s all that he knows. He’s the top killer in his Corporation. This future society is controlled by powerful Corporations that aren’t openly at war, but which regularly engage in covert operations against each other. When Jotun isn’t on a hit, his home base is the Palace:

“The Palace, or ‘Caesar’s Palace’ as they originally had called it because we all ‘lived like emperors’ there, isn’t that really. It’s more of a jail to those of us inside, a fortress to those outside, and a very well hidden company secret deep underground on the Earth’s moon. It’s where the Corporation keeps all of its most dangerous eggs, so it’s a strong basket. As for those of us inside, well would you want thirty some-odd trained and ruthless assassins running around loose?” (p. 29)

“‘Have you asked for a different assignment?’ she [Azelett] tried.

‘Of course, but they’re afraid to let me go. As much for my protection as theirs. I’ve seen too much, too many people would love to get their hands on me.’

‘They’re afraid of you, aren’t they?’

‘They’re afraid of us as a group. I don’t know if they’re afraid of any one of us. At least they’re letting the group shrink. When I got signed on there were one hundred of us, now it’s down to thirty three.’” (p. 31)

Jotun is used to being locked away in a pleasure-palace prison, and only called out along with a couple of wolf partners/friends when the top executives of his Corporation want somebody killed. He becomes mildly concerned when the Corporate bosses whom he is used to are all suddenly replaced, indicating company politics at the highest levels, and TV newscasts show that public opinion is turning against all the inter-Corporate mayhem.

The first half of Danger Money describes several of the assassination missions that Jotun and his partners go on, other scenes of violence that Jotun is involved in, and who his few friends are. Then everything goes to Hell. All the morphs that Jotun knows are killed or disappear, and the Palace on the moon is destroyed. He alone escapes.

“Now I’m sure you’ve all seen the rescue balloons before, probably in some deep space disaster movie. They’re just a round globe that holds one, sometimes two, people. It has no arms or legs, and while tough, is extremely cheap to make. They had been designed over a hundred years ago by the now defunct NASA for their space program. The low price made them ideal back then, and kept them popular now. Also I think rescuers liked the idea of having the accident victims all nicely wrapped up. Less trouble that way.

So here I was outside the airlock door with no hands or manipulator to open it. Or so one might think. There is always a work around, if you bother to look for it. I took out a long heavy glove that went up to my shoulder. At its end I had made a wide flange a long time ago. Then I got out a tube of vacuum cement, wonderful stuff actually, stays tacky until exposed to vacuum, then it seals in seconds. Trying hard not to get any on my fur, I coated the flange. Then taking my knife in m hand I slit open the side of the balloon. The rush of air pulled my arm out, and the glue quickly sealed around the base. Voila! Now I had an arm.” (pgs. 108-109)

The last half of the novel shows Jotun on the run alone. Besides trying to survive, he is determined to find out what is going on. Has another Corporation attacked his? Has his own Corporation decided that having a morph assassination squad is now a liability? Is there a power struggle in his Corporation, and which side, if any, should he support? Have any of his friends survived?

“I couldn’t stay here either. My face was being spread all over the moon, and the spotting pattern on a leopard’s face was as individual as a fingerprint. I couldn’t even risk going to buy dye at this point. Earth was out, period. For that matter so was any other place in the Solar system.

That left the colonies. Odds were that my description would not have gone out there; after all I couldn’t book passage on a ship as a morph. Our travel was highly restricted in the Earth’s system, and I didn’t even have an ID bracelet to buy a ticket. But that got me thinking, and suddenly I had an idea. And there was really one place to go of course.” (p. 115)

It’s almost non-stop action. Jotun is out for both his own survival and for revenge, against a hit squad that includes ferrets and a leopardess as deadly as he is. A major question is whether he is planning for his own survival after the revenge, or if he is on a death-&-glory suicide spree.

Danger Money (cover uncredited) is set in the same universe as Van Stry’s Children of Steel and Interregnum. Let’s hope there are more books to come.

– Fred Patten

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