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This was a science fiction novel, written in English, which I read in hardcover. I checked it out from a public library around the late 1980s. I don't know how old this book was at the time, but it sure didn't have a "Golden Age" feel to it. I only remember one portion of the plot development. I'm sure there were other things going on, but I don't recall what they were. The plot thread I am about to describe was resolved well before the end of the book.

Plot Points

  1. The setting is one where humans have already colonized a great many Earthlike planets, using ships which travel far faster than the speed of light, and the main action of this novel is set on a colonized world which is not Earth. One of the major characters, although the role of "viewpoint character" rotates among several different people as I recall, is a woman whom I will call "Female Officer." I believe she is a highly-trained member of some sort of interstellar Guild with high standards and a superb reputation. Possibly a pilot and/or navigator, or something along those lines. In theory, she is currently available to take on a new contract if it's in accordance with the Guild's rules. I'm sure she is not a "Captain" of her own ship, for reasons which I'll explain in a moment.

  2. Fairly early in the book, Female Officer bumps into a female waif/urchin/street kid/whatever, and I believe buys her a square meal in a local restaurant. I believe they eat and talk in a small, private room. Female Officer may have said something along the lines of "I might be able to find steady employment for you if I ask around." Then they go their separate ways . . . for the time being.

  3. A bit later on (possibly on the same day), Female Officer bumps into the male captain of a spaceship. I will call him "the Captain." I'm thinking it was the future equivalent of a "tramp steamer," owned (at least partially?) by the Captain, and drifting from world to world on no set schedule, making modest profits in its trading ventures, as opposed to being part of some corporate shipping line and pursuing a fixed route in an endless cycle. Female Officer is a very attractive woman, and the Captain is thinking wistful thoughts about the possibility of a sexual encounter, but he never mentions this, and while Female Officer may have suspected as much, she never says anything to encourage it, either. They go their separate ways after a talk which was ostensibly about what it would take for the Captain to hire her to be an officer aboard his ship for a while (but they failed to reach any agreement -- I suspect he couldn't afford her rates).

  4. Then Female Officer is arrested by the local authorities. The charge relates to that hour or so which she spent in a private room with the Waif. Either the Waif was wearing some sort of holographic recording device, or else there was one already installed in the room. (I can't recall for sure if Waif was under strict orders from a local big shot to lure Female Officer into that room, but I think she probably was.) The recording being used in court has been carefully altered to make it seem that Female Officer was behaving very badly.

  5. I'm not sure if Female Officer was simply being accused of "breach of contract," or if it was something more along the lines of "trying to solicit immoral sexual services from a local girl who is still a legal minor," or some combination of the two. (I'm thinking something resembling "breach of contract" was at least part of the indictment.) But, while the trial is not scheduled to take place for quite some time (several weeks, at least), during the indictment process (or whatever that hearing was called), the court issues an order that will stay in effect until the conclusion of the trial. Female Officer must constantly wear some sort of restraining device that will allow her to continue walking around in the streets of the city, so that she is more-or-less "out on bail," but the device will somehow make it impossible for her to hop in a starship and run away before the trial date. I'm thinking it was in the nature of a bracelet, but I could be wrong. I seem to recall that the bracelet had some sort of physical effect on her which made her very uncomfortable, physically or mentally, but the strain was bearable as long as she stayed within the court's jurisdiction. I don't recall the details of just how it worked. (At a wild guess, perhaps it jammed the effects of some circuitry which had previously been implanted in her brain as a prerequisite for her spacefaring profession?) This was all part of some evil plot by a villain -- the same guy who had made sure that his copy of the holographic recording was digitally altered to support the charges.

  6. The odd thing is that people in Female Officer's line of work normally wear their own holographic recording device (quite small in size), but for some reason Female Officer's unit seems to be missing when she is arrested. Thus, she is unable to produce it in the preliminary hearing and let the court (a judge or panel of judges, or whatever) immediately examine the suspicious discrepancies between her copy and the other copy. After she's been wearing the restraining bracelet for some time, the Captain I mentioned discovers that Female Officer's recorder is still in the room where he and she shared coffee (or something) aboard his vessel. The implication seems to be that she accidentally dropped it there, and didn't realize this later.

  7. When it's time for the big trial (which I think was meant to end with Female Officer being offered a chance to become the villain's indentured servant as the only way to avoid a worse fate at the hands of the local justice system), the Captain shows up with her recorder and submits it as evidence. He needs to take the stand to explain how it fell into his hands. The main thing that I remember about this scene is that when the Captain is sworn in as a witness, he is somehow being monitored by a sophisticated piece of equipment which will give an obvious sign if he knowingly makes a false statement. (I'm thinking something like "a big screen behind him will light up a certain color.") He chooses his words very carefully in a few spots (this scene has him as the viewpoint character), but essentially tells the truth and thus establishes the provenance of the recorder, so that its contents are then accepted as valid evidence when the relevant recording is played in the courtroom for all to see and hear.

Note: Of course, this raises the question of why holographic recording devices are so important -- despite being hackable -- if everyone can be hooked up to a foolproof lie detector to confirm precisely what sort of offers were or weren't made in a recent conversation. The author may have offered some rationalization for this, but if so, it completely escapes my recollection. (P.S. Thinking it over, I think "Guild-issued" recorders may have been considered unhackable, even if other brands weren't.)

  1. I have a vague idea that after Female Officer is acquitted, she politely thanks the Captain, and something gives him the sudden suspicion that she had deliberately left her personal recording device aboard his ship during their one previous encounter. I can't for the life of me remember why. (Had she already noticed she was under surveillance by local ruffians? Was she afraid she might soon be mugged in the streets by someone seeking to steal her recorder? That's a wild guess; not a clear recollection. I'm not sure the Captain ever finds out the answer.)

  2. I'm sure there were more chapters of the book after what I've just summarized, but I can't remember a thing about where any of the major characters ended up when all was said and done. (Except that I don't think the book was presented as a tragedy in which terrible fates befall the nicer characters.)

I'm pretty sure this book was not by any of the Very Big Names of the SF world of the late 20th Century, or else I would have run across it again. I wouldn't be terribly surprised to learn that the author in question only had one or two science fiction novels ever published, without becoming famous in the process, but that's just a wild guess.

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    It's not the answer but the (I'm thinking something like "a big screen behind him will light up a certain color.") reminds me of the similar device used in the courts in the Little Fuzzy books. – Organic Marble Apr 12 at 23:28

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