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Rats, Bats and Vats by Eric Flint and Dave Freer
Cover art by Bob Eggleton
Published by Baen Books
Reviewed by Leigh Kimmel
Harmony and Reason was supposed to have been an ideal society, set up according to rational lines. Because of the constraints of space travel, only a limited number of adult human beings could be transported. For those who could not afford to pay the fare and become Stockholders, it was possible to send genetic material. Once the colony was established, these children would be artificially gestated and brought up to enjoy the full benefits of a rationally organized society.
Or at least that was the theory. Chip isn't so sanguine about it, since as one of those "Vats," he's gotten to see the dark underside of the system. Since it costs money to gestate and educate a child to functioning adulthood, it was decided that the vat-children should have to repay those costs before becoming full Stockholders, and that until such time as their debts were repaid, they should be assigned work in the lower and less desirable rungs of the social ladder. Yet somehow the wages of menials could never quite equal their current expenses and their upbringing-debt, which means they are not just indentured servants, but effectively debt-peons.
And then the Maggots came, insectoid invaders who smashed down everything in their path to build their scorpiaries and raise a new generation of Maggots to further extend their conquests. Of course Stockholders couldn't possibly dirty their hands with the messy business of fighting on the sharp end, so they hastily drafted the Vats for hopeless trench warfare. Even so, all seemed to be lost until an FTL ship full of helpful aliens arrived and provided soft-cyber technology to uplift bats and rats as auxillary soldiers in the war against the Maggots.
Which is how poor apprentice sous-chef Chip ended up trapped with a squad of bats and rats, deep in the heart of Maggot territory. Desperately trying to stay alive, he rescues Victoria Shaw, none less than the daughter of the Chief Stockholders themselves. But the game isn't over yet, because they somehow have to get back to civilization with the information they have discovered. And all is not as it seems, for among their number is a traitor.
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Review posted November 19, 2002
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