I had trouble accepting the two main premises of Expendable.
The first of these is an all powerful, but unseen, master race which rules the lesser races of the galaxy. Said master race allows everyone to do pretty much as they want as long as they don't overtly cause trouble. No war, no crime, everyone negotiating peacefully. Right.
The second premise, the idea that the Earth government deliberately cultivates ugly and deformed men and women for use as expendable planet explorers is a bit easier to take, but the idea that such a program could remain a secret for hundreds of years is ludicrous.
Festima Ramos is a highly trained member of the Explorer Corps. Her job is to visit and explore new planets in First Contact situations. Ramos and her colleagues call themselves Expendable Crew Members (ECM) because First Contact situations are so dangerous and Explorers die with such regularity. All ECMs have some physical deformity which causes them to be shunned by the rest of human society. Ugly people are perfect for First Contact situations because no one cares if an Ugly person dies.
Ramos is successful as an ECM. She has come back intact from several missions and commands some (not much) respect.
She is surprised when her next assignment is to escort Admiral Chee to the planet Melaquin. Chee is an embarrassment to the Admiralty and Melaquin is the "Planet of No Return." Dozens of ECMs have disappeared onto Melaquin without a trace.
Of course when Ramos is assigned to this death planet she is upset. She is effectively being murdered for no other reason than she is Ugly.
There is much more to Melaquin than is in the record books. When Ramos survives her first moments on Melaquin she is faced with the twin tasks of finding out what is going on and finding a way back home. This makes up the bulk of Expendable.
Though not much is made of it, through an odd turn of events, Ramos, who is in tremendous physical shape and has a very beautiful body, is forced to wander across Melaquin dressed in a metal bustier and a ragged miniskirt.
During her journeys Ramos finds the remains of ancient civilizations and signs that Explorers who passed before her were not always very wise.
I read Expendable because I friend of mine raved about it. Unfortunately I didn't find it nearly as entertaining as she did. Perhaps my expectations were too high.
Expendable is a standard Science Fiction adventure. This Mr. Gardner's first novel, and it came across very well. I am more than willing to read more of his work.
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