In a moody story of an internal spy caught in the sweep of a coup, “The Political Prisoner,” by Charles Coleman Finlay is so dominated by betrayals, interrogations, and imprisonment, it’s easy to lose track of the setting: a planet where the terraforming is going slower than hoped and religion seems to be the main force keeping society together. Maxim Nikomedes begins the story under arrest. During the course of the opening pages, he recounts history that was too complicated for me to understand except to acknowledge that it was going to be a spy story. I was absorbed by his deepening predicament. Despite attempts to escape the sweep, and despite repeated acts that have effect only through persistance, he is mired (eventually literally) in the muck of despair. Bused out to the edge of the living world, Max is put to hard labor terraforming the dirt with his bare hands. Which leaves me thinking that forcing prisoners to do the dirty work might have something to do with why the terraforming isn’t going so well.
While Max seems to be on his own and striving to save himself, he survives only through friendship. In the sweep, he attempts to befriend a man who turns out to be no friend. In the camp, he ends up befriended by the lowliest strangers. And it’s the breadcrumbs he leaves for his friends that save him.
The spy came in from the cold and spent many days in the life of Ivan Denisovitch.