The first round of the second annual Self-Published Science Fiction Competition (SPSFC2) has ended, and my team has hand-picked three semifinalists to send to two other teams of fellow judges. In return, we have received six semifinalists from two other judging teams, which we will read before the end of April. And as someone who enjoys stories about culture clashes, I was particularly intrigued by The Peacemaker’s Code by Deepak Malhotra.
The Peacemaker’s Code has a relatively simple setup, but there’s plenty of story to be found within it. The United States government has made contact with an alien ship bound for Earth. Unfortunately, the ship has given no indication as to their purpose. Fearing war with a technologically superior adversary, the President turns to a history professor with a long track record of research into conflicts and how to avoid them.
Even for readers who skip the About the Author section, it’s not too hard to tell that this book was written by an actual academic with extensive research into diplomacy. The evidence is everywhere, and the results are a fair bit of good mixed with a little bad. First, the good: he writes what he knows. It’s abundantly clear that the subject has been deeply researched, and that pays off in a plot that climaxes in a remarkably clever diplomatic puzzle for the lead to untangle. On the minus side, the academic lead feels like an authorial insert that’s the subject of some less convincing wish fulfillment—particularly in the romantic subplot.
While aspects of the puzzle are uncovered slowly over the course of the novel, the main conflict is clearly going to be a diplomatic one. There may be an explosion or two, but readers looking for pitched battles are bound to be disappointed. Those who enjoy diplomacy stories, on the other hand, are in for a fascinating problem with a clever and satisfying conclusion. The exposition leans a hair toward the wordy side, but the prose is easy to understand and not at all dense, allowing me to read noticeably more quickly than my usual speed without sacrificing comprehension.
My only major complaints come down to the romantic subplot and the tendency to present mundane character facts as grand revelations. The narrative temporarily obscures the President’s gender (she’s a woman) and the main character’s physical appearance (he’s young and hot) to no real end, creating revelations that draw attention away from the story and onto evaluating the author’s attempts at cleverness.
And while it may not seem like much of a stretch to see a pair of young, single, attractive people thrown into the greatest crisis of a generation developing feelings for each other, the romantic subplot proceeds at a breakneck pace that feels out-of-step with the thoughtfulness of the main plotline. It just wasn’t believable enough to justify the page time, and it heightened the sense of wish fulfillment that had already crept in with the “only one historian can save the world” main story.
Overall, The Peacemaker’s Code was an easy read with a fascinating and deeply researched diplomatic puzzle at its core and a clever and satisfying finish. On the other hand, it probably ran a little longer than it needed to, with a significant romantic subplot that didn’t work as well for me and the occasional instance of information being hidden when it really didn’t need to be. It’s not a book I’d recommend to everyone, but those who enjoy stories about preventing conflict through diplomatic means will find plenty to enjoy.
Recommended if you like: diplomacy novels, the fate of the world resting on historians.
Can I use it for Bingo? It’s hard mode for Title with a Title (we’re counting “Peacemaker,” right?) and POC Author, and it’s also Self-Published and features Mundane Jobs.
Overall rating: 13 of Tar Vol’s 20. Three stars on Goodreads.
SPSFC score: My personal score will be 6.5/10. The official team score will be decided in concert with my teammates.