Zette McGee, former homicide detective, has quit her job to avoid exposing her secret. She lives in the Serendipity retirement habitat within the Sirius A system. The Earth has been mysteriously destroyed, brain/electronic interfacing (called "headware") is difficult to live without, nanotechnology rules the world, and many menial tasks are performed by "Disposables", android-like amalgamations of nanotechnology, headware and clones. Space travel is common but problematic, as the hypertubes used for traveling are disappearing.Zette receives a call from a disposable named Kell Fallow. Disposables are supposedly restricted to their programming, but a fleeing Kell claims to have known McGee and is accused of killing his wife and children. McGee wants to help, but their meeting is subverted by an explosion: Kell was carrying a nanotech bomb that detonated early. As McGee and her best friend Gideon Smith, an charming and enigmatic old man, dig into the deepening mystery, spies, sabotage, infections, and other nastiness come out of the wood work to prevent McGee and Smith from learning whatever secret investigating Kell's murder would uncover.
Hydrogen Steel could have been (cue the cheesy SciFi Echo) "Detectives In Space" but, thankfully, it's not. The story meanders between a mystery and an espionage tale, nimbly dances on the edge of hard Science Fiction and throws in a heavy philosophical element for good measure. McGee keeps the story moving when investigative prowess is needed and Smith fills the role of the wise old spy. Advanced technology is usually presented believably, excepting hypertubes — but originality of the explanation more than makes up for the lapse. The lack of highly detailed technical discussion helps rather than hinders the story, having things "just work" instead of spewing highly complex specifications as excuses. Technology and humanity collide, causing McGee and Smith both to question the line that divides the two.
My only real complaint with the story comes from the main character, McGee: it seems she always has to vomit and is only partially successful in stifling the impulse. While it doesn't happen every chapter, having regurgitation show in the top three of a reader's memory of a character is a first for me.
I would really recommend Hydrogen Steel to fans of the Science Fiction genre and, possibly, to readers looking for stories more realistic than they typical Star Wars book. Bedford has crafted a strong Science Fiction title filled with excellent dialogue, action at every turn, a compelling story, a dash of philosophy and somewhat surprising ending. And probably a few too many incidents of puking.
Hydrogen Steel by K. A. Bedford
Published By: Edge Science Fiction and Fantasy Publishing (March, 2007 in the US)
Genre: Science Fiction