Pam Uphoff’s novella LAWYERS OF MARS is a fun, fast satire of many genres. Uphoff’s heroine is the reptilian Xaero L’Svages, from a long line of Martian cave dwellers and lawyers. Xaero sees her society for what it is — static, propped up by technology most people barely understand, and often infantile — because her grandfather was one of the last of the Dry Scales, those Martians who actually lived most of the time on the surface of Mars rather than in the caves. Xaero is a female and is a fertile one (in this society, infertility is common, and “pseudo-males” or “pseudo-females,” commonly called pseudos, are those who may never be able to breed but are otherwise fully functional), but due to her Dry Scale inheritance is able to pretend to be a pseudo because pseudo-fems have a great deal more freedom available than do true-fems. And in any event, Xaero really enjoys the law.
The story starts off with Xaero getting her guilty-as-sin client (and potential environmental terrorist) Blosilli C’dasi off with a verdict of “not proven.” Xaero has recently been made partner at the venerable law firm L’svages, L’svages, L’svages, L’svages, and L’svages — yes, Ms. Uphoff repeats the name five times — and most of the firm resents her due to her grandfather the Dry Scale (ah, nothing like class prejudice) and because she’s supposedly a pseudo, so the celebratory and ritualistic drinking that occurs at the L’svages, et. al., firm after her win seems quite hollow to her. When her much-younger cousin Raelphy — the “y” ending depicting a person who is either a juvenile or behaves in a juvenile manner — gets assigned to her during the party in order for her to “train him up to standard,” she wonders how her life can get any worse.
After Raelphy gets kidnapped and no one seems to care, Xaero decides she’s just going to have to rescue him herself. When she realizes something is badly wrong, she gets taken captive, then has to find out how to get away. Then she becomes enmeshed in what seems to be a simple substitution plot based on mistaken identity on behalf of domestic terrorists who wish to wreck the power grid in order to somehow save the environment. (That the environment is propped up by the power grid due to a rather literal underground greenhouse effect makes no never-mind to the terrorists; they just want to destroy something because they haven’t really thought this one out.) But of course things couldn’t be that simple, and they aren’t; two Martian princes later, Xaero isn’t sure what’s hit her, nor does she know how she’s going to get everyone away from the rather single-minded terrorists.
How Xaero gets through all this, while rescuing her young cousin and many other innocent bystanders in the process, is for you to read. But I urge you to take the chance; LAWYERS OF MARS is fun, mostly because of how it sends up current American society — from fashion, to the environmentalists, to the terrorists who haven’t fully thought things through, to the power grid that everyone uses but no one really understands, it’s all there. Then, add in the fact of this venerable law firm, where billable hours come first (even before signing up new clients), some speculation on the nature of a four-sexed society (true-male, true-female, pseudo-male, pseudo-female), and a sprinkling of hard science with regards to Martian planetary features and how they might affect a native species, and you have a fast-moving action-adventure-satire unlike anything else I’ve ever read.
Now, as for the drawbacks? I don’t really see the point to all the minor inflections of people’s names, though I get it that many cultures have done exactly what Ms. Uphoff did with her Martians. Consider that in Raelphy’s case, his basic name is Raelph, but the “y” ending means he’s a juvenile (or has bad behavior, take your pick), the “e” ending (when it shows up) means he’s a pseudo-male (or possibly a male who just isn’t mature enough to breed; sometimes the pseudos do not progress, sometimes they do), and the “i” ending (later on) means he’s impregnated someone else and will be a father shortly. Keeping track of who was what sex at what point in the story got a little confusing, but it’s at most a minor quibble.
The bigger problem I had with the story was the high amount of expertise Xaero had in fields that weren’t hers — as in, she’s an expert hiker. She’s an expert tracker. She’s good at picking locks, or at least thinks she is. She’s nobody’s fool, which I liked, and she’s able to solve many problems — all good. But no one has this many talents without having some sort of major personality drawback, and unless Xaero’s supposed drawback is that she doesn’t like her secretary (which isn’t much), or that she snaps at people often when she hasn’t had caffeine in the morning (ditto), I just didn’t see any real weaknesses coming from her.
Finally, the Epilogue is very short and I would’ve liked a great deal more there, especially with regards to Xaero. We see the resolution of the crisis, yes, in the final chapter — but we do not see how Xaero, herself, manages to keep everyone guessing at her law firm with regards to her sexuality when she has had sex by that point and wasn’t exactly being shy and retiring about it. How could she have gotten away with it all?
All of that, though, doesn’t really detract from the pleasure I took in reading LAWYERS OF MARS; it’s just something that nags at me and says, “This isn’t quite an A-level story; instead, it’s a B-plus.”
Those quibbles aside, LAWYERS OF MARS is original, interesting, and has several laugh-out-loud moments. I enjoyed it a great deal, and believe you will, too, if you just go with the story and don’t take it too seriously.
— reviewed by Barb