Contaminant Six by Joseph R. Lallo

Contaminant Six by Joseph R. Lallo Cover Art

If you’ve ever wondered whether the Free-Wrench series can be read out of order, I guess it can. Somehow, I got turned around and read the sixth book before the fifth. Though I had a couple of places where I struggled to remember (for reasons that are now obvious), I had no trouble enjoying the story.

These books require you to accept a few basic premises but are otherwise largely self-contained. The first and most important is that the Wind Breaker crew looks out for its own no matter what. The second is, in doing the first, they’re likely to perform actions any reasonable person would think impossible. There are others, often focused on the skills each crew member brings to the whole, but those two are crucial.

I think that’s why I enjoy the series so much. The crew lives by the understanding that they can patch anything together whether people, ships, or plans. They know elaborate plans are impossible to carry out because situations are fluid. They are “gentleman” smugglers performing an illegal, but necessary, role. The crew is willing to help those in need when warranted and punish those who deserve it. And yet, they still expect to make a living at this in their own, chaotic way. The Wind Breaker crewmembers are the instruments of chaos, riding the winds wherever they lead and succeeding just barely, but succeeding.

What I’ve said applies to all the books I’ve read in this series as much as to Contaminant Six. It’s a fun read with nail-biting moments and very real dangers. The aye-ayes once again prove to be valuable crewmembers, and the loyalty and care among the crew comes out in many different ways. There’s never a doubt of their commitment even with Captain Mack trying his best to retire (as he has been over several books).

This story, more than many others, harkens back to the first one when Nita joins the crew to seek a cure for her mother. The cure they need this time must be created, not recovered, and one of the crew is at risk. I can’t say more without spoilers, but the powerful emotions driving the story are similar. This doesn’t prevent moments of laugh-out-loud humor, crafty dialogue, and amazing exploits. Instead, it emphasizes how, time after time, the crew refuses to despair, jostling out of dark moments and staying focused on the path to success. They don’t weigh the odds. If any chance exists, that’s their goal and the crew will do whatever necessary to make it happen.

There were many neat elements in the book. The aye-ayes scamper off to do mysterious things that are beautiful once I figured them out. The plot seeding allowed me to anticipate both horrible events and good ones. Even the casual description of clothing is far more involved in the story than just an aesthetic. For example, Nita’s utilitarian corset provides back support to help with the weight of her many tools while the female fug folk’s long skirts prove impossible to run in.

The same is true for how the crew recognizes that different doesn’t mean less, whether talking about Wink’s one eye or Coop’s unusual way of thinking. This acceptance from the start of the series provides support for their reactions to what’s happening in this book. It requires growth but is consistent with whom they’ve already proved to be.

I didn’t make that many notes because I was too busy being caught up in the story. I enjoyed spending time in their company, and this tale struck particularly close for me. It’s well-handled and true to the hopeful feel of the series. But make no mistake, Contaminant Six is hopeful in the face of adversity, not the absence of same. The crew struggles with military, mechanical, and medical crises, sometimes all at once, so this is no easy trip for all it’s a thrilling adventure.

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