SCI FICTION, April 21, 2004

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"Flight Risk" by Marc Laidlaw

Fittingly titled, Marc Laidlaw's "Flight Risk" is a story of escape, resolve, and danger.  Flight risk is a term used by law enforcement to describe individuals they deem likely to make an escape attempt. In modern corporate slang, it is an employee who is suspected of having plans to leave their company precipitously.  It is also, in today's post-9/11 wariness, used for someone who is considered too dangerous to be allowed to board a commercial airplane.

"Flight Risk" begins with a furtive engagement.  Foster, through car switches and back alleys, is brought with utmost secrecy to a boy in hiding. Although all the trappings of a riveting urban thriller are in place, there's a hiccup immersing in this tale.  Perhaps it's the unoriginal setting features–an industrial wasteland, black sedan, and overgrown thug–that are all too commonplace in urban fantasy.  Or maybe I've become jaded.  But the level of grit and desperation failed to come across as three dimensional against this backdrop, instead feeling as uninspired as pointy-eared elves in sylvan groves.

Fortunately, the story picks up with the introduction of the wan and listless mystery boy in captivity.  There is great effort put forth to ensure the child's health, although it is obvious his captor's motives are far from altruistic.  In homage to Hitchcock's The Birds, we see what makes this boy such a precious commodity when he makes a desperate bid for freedom.  But here the birds, as attendants to an exploited child, are harbingers of sympathy rather than terror.

Overall, this story is competently written and engaging enough.  But there is a certain predictability to the outcome.  There are also many questions left unanswered or glossed over.  Remarkable mutant powers, a la the current X-Men fascination, are ubiquitous in pop fantasy, so much so that it is almost a writerly gimme that such abilities require no more than a cursory, superhero-esque explanation of their origins.  I had hopes that "Flight Risk" would defy that trend, but was disappointed.  Also, without Laidlaw providing alternate details to the nefarious purpose of the party interested in obtaining him, it is assumed, as per countless movies, comic books, and Outer Limits episodes, that the boy's fate would be as dissected guinea pig or secret military weapon.  I would have preferred a deeper examination of the societal forces behind the "bad guy's" motives.

Still, "Flight Risk" is an enjoyable read, despite being a bit lackluster in the innovation department to this reviewer's eye.