If James Bonds were to find himself out of a job and out of luck with the ladies, Timothy Zahn’s Night Train to Rigel would be his story.
The story follows a former Earth intelligence officer, Frank Compton, as he receives a train ticket from a dying man. Compton was booted from his government position when he criticized the Earth’s colonization of a dirt ball to meet the requirements to become an interstellar race. Utilizing his skill and experience, he becomes a freelancer for anyone with the right credit amount.
The interstellar trains maintained by a race known as Spiders are the only way for races to travel from one system to another. The Spiders’ race are a fusion of machine and flesh. They are able to communicate with one another telepathically. On his train ride, Compton is abducted by the Spiders and tasked with saving the galaxy from an all-out war. The Spiders send along one of their agents, Bayta, who looks like a normal human being. Bayta has the unique ability to communicate with the Spiders telepathically.
Compton and Bayta travel from one planet to another unravelling the mystery behind the rumors of large scale planetary attacks. Along the way, they meet various dignitaries, old compatriots, and a race of body snatchers.
Compton comes across as resourceful and determined with a decent sense of honor not found among most intelligence agents. Bayta plays the sidekick role well, although she is hardly noticeable throughout the tale.
The plot seemed to rely on coincidence in determining Compton’s next destination more often than not. However, I found the ah-ha moment to be surprising. And, we are finally given answers to the current position Compton has held from the beginning of the story, which coincidentally also fits within the context of his latest task.