A spectacular action thriller mixed with some deliciously twisted political double-dealing and truly ingenious attention to character detail, Liege-Killer freakin' rocks. I can't recall a debut quite this auspicious and exciting recently. Hinz has created a chilling, believable future; what's more, he knows how to pace a story so that suspense is unrelentingly taut, and that bursts of ultraviolence retain all of their visceral horror, as opposed to the way most violent actioners pile on the gore until you're left with little more than a by-the-numbers freak show. This is that unusual type of novel that has thrills, chills, and spills all tied together by that rarest of commodities: excellent storytelling.
The novel's backstory tells of a nuclear nightmare at the end of the 21st century, a time when technology ran unchecked, and its most fearsome product was the Paratwa, a race of genetically engineered killers that make Jim Cameron's Terminators look like Mouseketeers. Ruthless, cunning, and, worst of all, ambitious, they are the master race even Hitler could never have dreamed of. Each Paratwa is (are?), in fact, two individual beings governed by one mind. Called "tways," these binary beings can function both independently when necessary (as in battle), as well as unite their minds to even more terrible advantage. A single Paratwa — that is to say, with both of its tways working in tandem — is capable of taking out entire military companies of hundreds of men. If that weren't enough, the Paratwa even developed their own societal heirarchy, with a small "royal caste" known as the Ash Ock serving as a ruling body. The Ash Ock, through a process called "sapient supersedure," are infamous for having infiltrated the highest echelons of human society by assassinating and then assuming the identities of important figures.
Cut to the beginning of the 24th century. The Paratwa are assumed extinct, finally brought to their doom in the holocaust of 200 years previous. As we shall see, assumptions are foolish things. Humanity has all but abandoned the irradiated Earth for refuge on both starfaring colony ships — which are reported to have met with tragedy — and numerous orbital colonies. When it is learned that a pair of Paratwa tways have likely been revived from stasis on Earth and brought up to the colonies, Rome Franco, the director of an organization called E-Tech (devoted to monitoring technological progress to ensure nothing to threaten humanity ever happens again) as well as a member of the governing Irryan Council, arranges to thaw out a couple of killers of his own: two men from the late 21st experienced in dealing with Paratwa firsthand.
As these two hunters, Nick (whose smart mouth conceals a sharp mind; he also happens to be a midget) and Gillian (who actually led trained fighters to kill Paratwa), stalk their prey, they happen upon evidence that the revival of this Paratwa is rooted in a frightening and labyrinthine conspiracy that might well lead right up to the Irryan Council itself, particularly in the disturbing revelation that it is entirely possible that an Ash Ock has been alive and functioning somewhere high up in colony politics for some time. And the purpose of this conspiracy is nothing less than to finish the job the Paratwa left undone the first time: the subjugation of humanity to Paratwa rule.
I'm very reluctant to overstate matters and put myself entirely at the mercy of any novel I read, but with Liege-Killer, damned if I could help myself. The book works. Through and through it works. Hinz juggles numerous storytelling bowling pins and doesn't drop a one. He introduces a wide assortment of characters and gives each one excellent development. Particularly compelling is Gillian, whose motives for killing this Paratwa are disconcertingly personal, so much so his judgment threatens to be clouded. There's a race of pirates, shunned by respectable colonial society but without whom it could not survive, who prove pivotal to E-Tech's plans to kill the Paratwa. Even characters one might at first assume stock and boring simply aren't. Hinz has a real gift here.
But even more impressive is his plotting. At well over 400 pages, Liege-Killer has impressively little fat. Hinz keeps his pacing brisk and never loses his narrative's focus. Suspense is pea-soup thick, and considering that the story hits us with so many genuinely unexpected twists and turns, it's even cooler that Hinz doesn't leave us totally reeling. Each startling surprise and revelation makes narrative sense, and helps drive the story ever faster towards its culmination. But the story is no uncontrolled roller-coaster ride either. Moments of shocking violence are timed in such a way to sustain maximum impact and propel the plot forward. Once again, nothing loose or gratuitous, no fat on this novel's meat.
If there are any grounds for which one might criticize this book, it may be for a slight but discernable technophobia at its thematic core. Repeatedly the notion is advanced that science must be checked, not allowed to progress too fast, in order that humanity not suffer war, strife, or things like Paratwas. My personal view, and I think one shared by most proponents of science as well as SF fans, is that science itself harms no one. The applications of science, naturally, may be put to evil use (vide nuclear war), but in those cases, it is people — with their greed and lust for power — who need to be checked, not science.
Philosophy aside, the fact remains that Liege-Killer is an honest-to-ghod blockbuster that has something for virtually everyone: suspense, action, political intrigue, character drama, believable extrapolation. And I believe it will be remembered as a landmark novel. Hell, just read it. Hinz is nothing less than a natural born storyteller. And as a storyteller, he (not unlike his Paratwa) is a natural born killer.