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Thursday, October 29, 2015

Yes, Dry-Sounding Legal Concepts Can Lead to Thrilling Stories: Rusch's Retrieval Artist Series

I know. Some people will hear about my new book, Closest to the Fire: A Writer's Guide to Law and Lawyers, and they'll say: come on, now. How many interesting stories can you really base on obscure legal concepts?

Let us appreciate and ponder Kristine Kathryn Rusch's Retrieval Artist series.

In this science fiction series, going strong for thirteen years now, humanity has encountered and is doing interstellar business with a number of different alien species. Naturally, they all have their own world views and ways of doing things -- including their own legal systems. The premise of the series: that humans have consented to have these various aliens apply their own laws to humans who work on or otherwise visit the their planets. The problem: some of these alien laws are, by human standards, barbaric. For example, misunderstandings and the actions that flow from them may be crimes that condemn not only the criminal, but one or more of the criminal's children to anything from death to the transformation into something other than human.

In order to continue employing talented workers, the various multiplanetary corporations must provide some way for their employees to escape alien justice. The resulting industry "disappears" people, providing them with alternate identities and the means to assume them. But then there are the Trackers, who try to find the Disappeared and bring them to alien justice, as well as Retrieval Artists, whose function is at least supposed to be more palatable to human sensibilities. And that's just the beginning of all manner of plots and complications, not to mention fascinating characters.

My point: here's an engrossing, suspenseful, often mind-blowing, and successful science fiction series fundamentally based on . . . a choice of law issue. And yet, if you asked lawyers and law students (those who aren't already Rusch's ardent fans) what legal subject is too dry to use as the jumping-off point for exciting fiction, "choice of law" might well be one of the more common responses.

What fascinating fiction might the next writer base on some legal doctrine most people have never heard about? (And (ahem) where might the writer learn about that doctrine in the first place? . . .)

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