BROWN, DIANA J.
The 13th Culling
In her book, The 13th Culling, New Mexico writer Diana J. Brown takes a journey into the 22nd century and onto a mysterious planet where micro-organisms mutate human and animal DNA and create new life forms. Many science fiction writers have explored life on a post-apocalyptic planet, but Brown lays out what might result after a golden age of peace and progress on Earth. What most people would consider the ideal scenario of an end to war and those resources applied toward scientific and medical progress turns into misery for many people as the world’s population explodes. A new class of people, the Good Citizens, rises above their fellow human beings – literally – as they live in the beautiful sky cities by virtue of their exceptional DNA and productivity. Life down on the ground, however, becomes a Dickensian nightmare of pollution, poverty, and sickness. The Good Citizens identify potentially habitable planets and reduce the population of earth by sending ships of the poor, criminals, and social activists to those planets to see if they are able to survive. The 13th Culling closely follows many of the colonists on the 13th ship of undesirables to leave Earth to see how they cope on the planet of Kalzor.
The book explores many compelling themes. How might people on Earth cope with a population crisis in the future? How might colonists survive transportation to a new planet and go about making a new life? What human characteristics will continue to be a stumbling block for cooperation and survival? And then, most fascinating, what might happen if a micro-organism on another planet were able to modify human and animal DNA?
The concepts and scenario that Brown lays out are interesting, but the world she creates needs to be more fully fleshed out. Kalzor remains largely a blank canvas – it looks like earth and there are no descriptions of anything unusual on the planet, such as plants or animals, other than the micro-organisms. So many questions are left unanswered that it’s difficult to feel that a believable world has been created here. The idea of DNA mutations and how that might play out is confusing, contradictory, and illogical. Why would there be an organism on another planet that would cause people to mutate to become like the pets and animals they brought from Earth and then be able to psychically communicate with them? If a cat and a human are both infected with the same DNA-mutating organism would this cause them to be able to communicate? There are a lot of characters and many of them are quite fascinating, but their interactions with each other are fleeting and unsatisfying. The ending leaves so many loose ends that Brown must be planning a sequel. The grammatical and spelling errors in the book were quite distracting. This book has a good foundation, but it needs editing, and the planet, characters, and scientific concepts should be more thoroughly developed.
8/09 Reviewed by Lisa Kindrick, Librarian
GATUSKIN, ZELDA LEAH
Castle Lark and the Tale That Stopped Time
Listed as a science fiction fantasy, Castle Lark and the Tale that Stopped Time is more. Gatuskin weaves an enticing web of story within story that holds the reader spellbound, like the magic that permeates the ancient Castle Inkibreakie. An unlikely pair of teenagers from the year 2170 meet on an excursion to the old home planet of Earth. Abandoned during the Evac, Earth is still deemed unlivable although there are dome covered areas, like the Four Corners Sanctuary, where Earth-life can be experienced. Fasha, on a vacation tour with her family, is angry when her father brings Alex to join them. As Fasha explains via her notepad link to her friend Heather on Mars, “When we went to meet Dad at the spaceport yesterday he had this kid with him, Alex, the son of my ‘aunt and uncle’ Glo and Gordon Huntly….Alex was going to spend the rest of summer with his dad…but when he got to Luna-1 Uncle Gordon wasn’t there…Anyway…Dad says he’ll bring Alex on vacation with us. My father, the saint.” When they experience life outside of a dome for the first time in New Africa, the two begin to develop an affinity which deepens when Fasha convinces her parents to let them visit Strathbogie Castle. The Castle turns out to be the Gordon ancestral home and base of experiments to abate an amazing vine that covers all of what was once Great Britain. With their guide, Amy, they are drawn to an uncharted tower (Inkibreakie). Inside is an amazing manuscript that warns, “This story has plenty of middle, and more than one riddle.” As Fasha and then Alex take turns reading the story, executives of ClimaTech and their parents converge on the tower with mixed agendas. Time not only stops, in converges, into an unexpected climax that leaves the reader wanting more of the enchantment. 05/10, Reviewed by Cynthia Davis, Author Mary, My Love and 6 other Footprints From the Bible books
Gatuskin, Zelda Leah
The Time Dancer: A Novel of Gypsy Magic
Although the author of this amusing novel is represented as a novelist, artist, and dancer, the jacket endorsements give away her love for the theater. The reader can readily see this in the manner in which the scenes of the story are staged. I have never read a book as suitable for adaptation to a play as this one. To read it is to be immersed in a strange and magical world, not our own as it turns out, but one very close by. Our heroine, Esmarelda, does not seem a stranger, however, when we keep in mind such free spirits as, for example, Isadora Duncan. To say Esmarelda is a strong and independent woman is an understatement. This well-knit character does a lot to carry us along on a plot involving romance, magic elixirs and spells, time-travel, a wizard who volunteers to become a cat, and the gypsy life. On the whole, I enjoyed this book, but I can see Gatuskin had some problems taming her plot. Midway through the book she introduces so many new characters, places, and times, I suffered from jet lag. At the conclusion, the supporting cast is entirely different from those we met in the first half. The two lovers, Esmarelda and George, take far too long to meet, and while their love is just believable, so much happens to them as individuals it’s difficult to see them as a couple. Gatuskin’s characters are strong and well done; her writing is very good. Her ideas are well-executed; I for one had never thought of cats as having dreams “full of rushing winds and bursts of light.” But I can see it must be true. This is a fun and imaginative read. Gatuskin actually has the germ of about three different novels crammed into this story, but that aside, resolutions to the conflicts and mistaken identities are cleverly conceived. Anyone who likes good characters and parallel worlds would enjoy this book.
GERSON, MARK DAVID
THE MOONQUEST: A TRUE FANTASY
Light Lines Media, ISBN 978-0-9795475-8-4
Subtitled “A True Fantasy”, The MoonQuest by Mark David Gerson is an allegory for that within each of us that calls us to search for our voice, our gifts, our reason for living. Toshar, a young, unlikely “exception to the law of balance,” finds himself sent forth to seek and reawaken M’nor, the moon. Doubt, disbelief, and the laws of the King have driven M’nor from the land and silenced the voices of the bards.
Toshar must face and conquer his fears and doubts in order to accomplish this task. Along the way, he gathers companions—“The Four as One”—to assist him, but the greatest aid is his gradually developing ability to tell stories. Toshar’s stories flow from within him and transform the world. His companions also learn that they, too, are part of the storytelling and it is only through all four stories that M’nor is awakened. Evil and darkness must still be defeated. As in all good quests good does triumph. M’nor returns to sing again over Q’ntana and Toshar embraces his destiny as Elderbard of the land.
Along with Toshar and his friends, the reader enters a world where story and song are silenced and the only hope is to reawaken them and defeat the darkness. Gerson’s fantasy invites us to journey along, holding our breath at the dangers and rejoicing at the succession of stories within the fantasy that call M’nor back to life in this world. Along the way, we are reminded to listen and embrace the stories and songs within ourselves for it is only then that good and light can endure.
HALL, CHARLES JAMES
Millennial Hospitality I
Millennial Hospitality II
Author House, ISBN: (I) 1-4033-6874-0, 24.95
(II) 978-1403392046 22.95 Amazon Aliens. Do they exist or do they not? Millennial Hospitality is the story of one man who is chosen to find out. As a weather observer for the U.S. Air Force stationed at the Mojave Wells bombing range, Charlie Baker is special. He is the only person who can man the range alone. The only one who can do his job and keep his head, despite the unusual white lights, strange noises and hours of missing time that continue to plague him. All those worthy airmen before Charlie have become unhinged, or terrified or both.
What are these lights and strange events? Aliens of course. This simple fact is no secret to anyone, unless, of course, you are Charlie. The Air Force knows about them. The citizens of Mojave Wells know about them. Even the cooks on the base know about them. But Charlie is special and the aliens want him around for their own purposes. To study him and learn from him. To observe without his knowing. And they do this by mind control. This is the entire premise of Millennial Hospitality.
Millennial Hospitality is a book that could have been great if it had actually gone anywhere. Instead it was 474 pages of redundancy where the reader flogged by the many ways the naive but oh, so intelligent Charlie can be stunned and shocked. The only reason I know about the aliens and their intent is because I read most of the sequel, Millennial Hospitality II. After two books and a total of 854 pages, the alien’s purpose is revealed and it’s certainly not what anyone could be expecting. There are two more books in the series that may explain more, but I am not sure many people, other than die hard alien aficionados, will get through even the first. 4/09, Reviewed by Gregory Saunders, author of Zahir, with input from editor Sabra Brown Steinsiek
WINNER 2009 New Mexico Book Awards
Worlds Asunder is one of those books that tries to combine genres, sometimes making you wonder what sort of book you are actually reading. On its cover, literally, it would seem to be a science fiction book, and, undeniably, it is. Much of the action takes place sometime in the future at Luna Alpha Base on the moon when a freighter crashes some distance away. It briefly seems like it could become a story of survival and rescue, but, instead, the hero “Chase” Morgan is soon left to solve the growing mystery of why this tragedy took place.
It turns out, of course, that there is more going on than meets the eye, and it now becomes a political thriller, involving China and the United States. Secret Military organizations complicate both the investigation and the political situation.
Meanwhile the family of our soon to retire hero also makes life difficult for him, as he ponders the choices he has made in his life and all that it has cost him.
As the investigation begins to reveal the truth, it soon becomes an action adventure, with a fire fight and a chase scene that is, well, out of this world.
Amazingly, to one degree or another, all of this works. We do end up caring about at least some of our characters. We are intrigued by the mystery, and in the end the action taking place upon the moon’s surface makes you feel like it was all worth it.
That is not to say that all parts will please the reader equally. Sometimes the author has a bad habit of telling you why a character is motivated to act a certain way, rather than letting the dialogue or his actions slowly reveal what lies beneath. The political intrigue may lack the nuances favored by some writers in that genre, and, while the mystery is uncovered eventually, you may no longer care. Such is the risk of combining so many things in one story, but like a tapestry, when viewed from a distance, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
3/09 Reviewed by Rev. Will Steinsiek, editor, New Mexico Annual Conference Historical Journal
HORNER, W.H., Editor
Cloaked in Shadow
edited by W.H. Horner
DOUBLE FINALIST 2007 New Mexico Book Awards
“Elves aren’t always creatures of the light.”
Not every elf is as faithful as Legolas. Not every elf carries the moral burden of Drizzt Do'urden. Cloaked in Shadow carries twenty-two tales of the darker side of elves. In the first story, Diminishing, elves are bent on nothing less than the extermination of mankind. A fact that takes a very jaded police detective by surprise. In Celebrant, the final story, a widower is seduced by an elven queen for designs most shocking to the mortal and for a purpose essential to the future of the elves. And in between? Stories of elven drug lords. Elven hit men. Elven turncoats who wish to destroy their own kind, and the fey who believe they’ve out smarted the foolish humans only to find they have gravely underestimated their foe. For having short lives does not necessarily mean dim of wit. Each of us feels unsettled in the deepest part of night. Listens to the creaks and groans of a settling house and wonders what if? Spent a night in a cold wood untrusting of every shadow. Cloaked in Shadow brings all those fears forward to be confronted by us mortals and provides new fears we never thought of. Of note is New Mexico author, David J. Corwell, and his story, Legacy of the Quedana. This is not only one of the longest stories in the book, but one of the most twisted. A story of the duplicity of man and the far worse treachery and bitter deceit brewing within the tribes of the elves, proving the axiom, “Divided we fall.” As an author I read for three reasons. Entertainment, escape and ideas. Cloaked in Shadow delivered all three in spades. The stories are compelling, fast paced and surprising. Anyone who loves horror or fantasy will enjoy this book.
Born Into Greyworld (The Dreamtime Chronicles Series)
Kate lives in Greyworld, a world without color or joy, where people are taught to follow the rules of Protocol, and especially not to think for themselves. Her mother takes pills to avoid anxiety. For several years, Kate enjoyed after school time in the company of Mrs. Hatpin who secretly introduced her to forbidden books and films that stimulate the imagination. But now Mrs. Hatpin is gone. The heart of the book takes place in a Dreamworld of wise and wonderful teachers, who build on what Mrs. Hatpin taught Kate. Kate learns to see and to hear in new ways, and especially to call upon the power of the light. When Kate returns to Greyworld, she has learned enough to extricate herself from a perilous situation. Several chapters appear to be told out of chronological sequence, presumably explaining to the reader the cause of the Shift and the source of Kate’s Shadowman. Sometimes the Dreamworld passages feel too didactic, and at times the prose is rather pedestrian, but Medina’s descriptions of Greyworld and the Dreamworld are vibrant creations. Though Kate survives a great danger, many questions remain in this first novel of a new series.
10/1/08 Reviewed by Kate Harrington, Writer
Tales of the Talisman, Volume VI, Issue 2
Tales of the Talisman is a quarterly publication of short story fiction and poetry that delivers an esoteric mix of tales from the edge. Ten stories and ten poems that discuss the final journey of life as we inevitably transition from this life to what’s beyond; and perhaps back to life again. There is a little something for everyone here. Witches and vampires stalk the pages and surprising twists, magic and folk lore flavor the stories. Is there life after death? Would you want it if it meant you’d become a vampire? Could you earn your warriors name by defeating a witch who could change into other forms? Can you resist the sirens call?
Talisman begins with The Widow of the Reach, where a young widow captures the eye of a mariner captain. She is aloof, standing on the windy reach day after day, staring at the horizon. Despite the villager’s warnings, the captain pursues this lovely woman and finds, to his peril, not what he expected. The final story, Shakti is a tale of control. This is a bit of Eastern voodoo that can control the very soul. What’s in between? The Paraplegic, a story of a medical mystery induced by a band of vampires. Jupiter’s Child, a tale of aliens and a bar. And the various works of poetry have a flavor all their own. I refer a potential reader to The Five Known Sutras of Mechanical Man. He is a piece of equipment with a purpose and an awareness who moves from assembly line to death, always wondering. And there are many others.
Of particular note is the Conqueror of Shadows by local author, David J. Corwell y Chávez. David has woven a tale from the southwest where a young man defies his grandfather the medicine man, and confronts his fear as well as a great evil, all to save his father from a curse. This story has great flavor and a twist of hatred and triumph at the end.
Tales of the Talisman is great for quick reads and, for us in the writing community, great ideas. What I liked was the blend of very different stories and poems, each with a different flavor but a similar theme. I recommend giving the tales a try, there is something here for everyone.
PECK, RICHARD E.
DoubledayISBN 0-385-51240-6 Former president of the University of New Mexico Richard Peck plunges into the genre of science fiction and, as with all his books, comes up a winner. Even though I seldom read science fiction, this book proved that good writing and well-thought-out plotting can lead a reluctant reader such as myself through the maze of unfamiliar imagery into a fascination with the story. This story centers around cryogenics and the “rebirth” of a university professor years in the future, bringing him into a completely different kind of world, due partly to the writings he authored during his lifetime. On the order of the novel 1984, the society in his future is troubling and fantastic, led by a small faction of people who keep others in an illiterate bondage. Perhaps Peck’s authorship stems from events he saw as a present-day educator. If so, the allegorical nature of this book may be a wake-up call to Americans to look more closely at the administration of our universities. There may be a frightening reality ensconced in these pages.
6/10 Reviewed by Lola R. Eagle, free-lance writer and poet
Of Berserkers, Swords & Vampires
Baen Books, 978-1-4391-3269-2
There’s always an inherent uneasiness in revisiting the stories that captivated me in my youth, particularly as two inevitable questions emerge: Will re-reading these milestones still evoke the same excitement and illumination that they did originally? Or will the characters and plots fail to impress, the complexities of such tales now oversimplified in light of my own life experiences? Such was the feeling that welled inside me when I perused the pages of the retrospective on Fred Saberhagen called Of Berserkers, Swords & Vampires. Growing up in the ‘80s and ‘90s, I fondly recall several of Fred’s [though I never had the honor of meeting him, I suspect that he would have preferred that I use his first name] science fiction and fantasy tales, notably a scattering of non-series fiction, the Berserker stories, and his Dracula series. These were works not only brilliant in their execution, but ones that stimulated my mind with their wondrous possibilities, encouraged further discovery of the world around me, and inspired me to jot down the stirrings of my own imagination. Even so, would these same stories speak to me as before? After reading Fred’s first published works (“The Long Way Home” and “Volume PAA-PYX”), as well as two of his general science fiction pieces (“To Mark the Year on Azlaroc” and “Martha”), it was immediately clear that my doubts were unfounded. His characters continue to live and breathe on the page, his universes remain beautiful and menacing frontiers, and the stories’ underlying themes are just as relevant as when they were first written. Upon reading the next story, “Planeteer,” I suddenly felt as if I had returned home after a long absence. Told through the viewpoint of Boris Brazil of the Space Force, this first contact story shows how easily one can become mired in local conflicts. Brazil must eventually devise an acceptable means to unite the Reds and the Blonds while preserving the integrity of both cultures AND establish a temporary scientific base on the planet. A monumental task, to be sure, but the story's thought provoking ideas and action scenes make for suspenseful reading. "Planeteer" is better than I remember. I must admit that I never read any of Fred’s Swords books (through choice or ignorance I cannot say – memory is a vaporous beast), but after experiencing the mythical intrigue and mayhem of “Blind Man’s Blade,” there is no doubt that I will be searching for all eleven volumes of the series. The next two stories (“Stone Place” and “The Bad Machines”) transport the reader into the midst of a deadly war between Berserkers and Mankind, who because of their historically aggressive tendencies have become key players in the battle to prevent the machines from destroying all life. “The Stone Place” is as gripping and suspenseful as the first time I read the story, its drama centered on human dilemmas, not the technology, which while important, stays rooted in the background. These military science fiction stories are indeed at the heart of one of Fred’s ongoing themes – the fact that the human spirit is indomitable. As he so aptly puts it through the character of Mitchell Spain, a soldier and poet: “The world was bad, and all men were fools – but there were men who would not be crushed. And that was a thing worth telling.” It was good to return to the fight. Another favorite from the book was “The White Bull,” a superb re-envisioning/meshing of the Greek myths of Daedalus and Theseus. In this instance, the white bull, the pet monster of King Minos, is the instructor of a school for heroes. Unfortunately, Daedalus finds himself caught in the middle of a conflict outside of his control, trying to heed the king’s wishes while keeping the new student (Theseus) out of trouble. After reading the story, I reviewed the original myths and was amazed at how much the story is similar, yet intrinsically different. It is a marvelous retooling of the "old" for a modern audience.
The book culminates with three vampire stories – an excerpt from The Dracula Tape (the Count’s version of Bram Stoker’s novel), “Box Number Fifty,” and “A Drop of Something Special in the Blood.” Though each is fun and engagingly original, the second piece is the most memorable. When an orphaned sister and her brother are rescued from a dire situation by Dracula, who pretends to be their father, they return his kindness in a most significant way and are given a second chance at life. The story not only adds another facet to Stoker’s overarching story, but it paints the Count in a complimentary light. It’s quite enlightening to see that he isn’t just a force of pure evil as Van Helsing and company have made him out to be.
As if the stories themselves weren’t enough reward, the introduction by his wife and writer/editor in her own right, Joan Spicci Saberhagen, provides a deeper, more intimate look into the creative process of a science fiction master. Readers, and especially writers, will find Fred’s translation of his interests and observations into story ideas utterly fascinating.
The only notable omission is an extensive bibliography of Fred’s works. A complete listing of both his long and short fiction would have made a handy reference sheet. Of Berserkers, Swords & Vampires is an excellent tribute to a man who was a storytelling giant and a friend and mentor to all writers. It is a book so wonderfully executed that I’m quite baffled that more retrospectives have not been done for other science fiction greats. Publishers would do well to take heed of Baen’s example and honor their prominent scribes in this manner, too. Regardless, fans and new readers alike will enjoy this snapshot of one exemplary writer’s major contributions to the genre.
I don’t typically go back and read books multiple times (except for The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings). There’s never enough time… But thanks, Fred, for leading me back home. It’s definitely time to dig through my library, dust off the copies of books I've neglected for much too long, and jump into the thrill of discovery once again.
Light From a Distant Star: Book One of the Unknown Country
Unknown Country ISBN 978-0-6152-0754-4
An invading space armada meets with unexpected, devastating resistance from their would-be subjects. A sentient starship awakens and travels the galaxy, searching for its home. A lone warrior from the Sar-too clan witnesses the celestial initiation of an age-old prophecy. And thus, the wheel of destiny begins an irrevocable turn in Gregory J. Saunders’ debut novel, Light From a Distant Star. In the Milky Way, Lieutenant Colonel James “Mac” Crowe, commander of the Shuttle Atlantis, and his crew are ordered to investigate the strange disappearances of Earth’s telecommunication satellites and, more importantly, the International Space Station (the Unity). After a sudden encounter with an alien ship, the shuttle crew finds itself in an unknown area of the galaxy, far from home. The Atlantis and Unity crews are quickly reunited on the Atlantis, but their troubles have only begun. In addition to running out of food and air, their ship's orbit is rapidly deteriorating. The novel is at its heart a survival story. Forced to crash land on an alien planet, the humans must adapt quickly to a world of wondrous beauty and incredible perils, including violent weather and dinosaur-sized predators, or face their own extinction. The fauna and flora are otherworldly, yet subtly similar to Earth’s life forms, attesting to the fact that while diversity flourishes, there is still a consistency to all life in the universe, and regardless of planet or star system, survival of the fittest remains the underlying rule. If the battle against nature were not daunting enough, the planet’s intelligent denizens – the Aranu, a vicious, beastlike race of cannibals, and the People, a ghost like band of aliens and self-proclaimed protectors of the lowlands – soon become readily apparent. Both races provide threats not to be lightly ignored. The humans’ planetary guide is Niloc-al-teal, the sole survivor of his clan after a murderous spree by the Aranu. The first contact scenario is handled well, the differing perspectives both engaging and realistic. As humans and clansman slowly learn to communicate, Mac discovers that he is the foretold savior of the clansmen, the one who will unite all the tribes and lead them into a new, golden era. But with the humans' survival still in question, Mac isn't exactly ready to embrace this latest revelation.
The book's ambitions don't stop with the day-to-day struggles of the Atlantis crew, as it also infuses elements of action/adventure, epic fantasy, and traditional planetary romance a la Edgar Rice Burroughs. Saunders is obviously writing the kind of story(ies) he enjoys reading, while also incorporating his love of the Southwest, and it’s a captivating blend of storytelling.
The sometimes awkward style and typo-ridden narrative often distracts, but the ongoing tale always beckons. Light From a Distant Star is the first of a trilogy entitled the Unknown Country, and as such, readers will definitely want to purchase the second book (Light of an Alien Sun) to determine how the characters are reunited and to discover what mysteries lie within the forbidden city of the dead. Highly recommended for fans of cross-genre fiction. 2/09 Reviewed by David Corwell, author of Legacy of the Quedana ( see Cloaked In Shadow)
Light of an Alien Sun: Book Two of the Unknown Country
Unknown Country, ISBN: 978-0-6152-0754-4
Light of an Alien Sun (second book in the Unknown Country trilogy) whisks readers back to Earth, where the appearance of the sentient, alien spacecraft (Vi-t-ry) from Book One creates an enormous ripple effect that will forever change the history of Mankind. The realization that the journey with the original characters has been postponed is initially disappointing, but soon forgotten as the reader is pulled into an engaging mix of political thriller and adventure story.
Unlike other science fiction franchises that espouse the coming together of the human race to face the challenges posed by the Unknown, Saunders offers a darker, grittier viewpoint. Terrorist cells, seeing the ship as a sign from God, rain down more destruction and suffering on innocents around the world, "all in the name of something holy only to them." Rival countries, once holding themselves in check, declare open war on one another, and internal strife suddenly rears its ugly head within the governments of many nations. U. S. President Jon Talbot and his advisors struggle to contain national and international incidents, but overall, the leaders of nations themselves don't provide many examples to follow, focusing their efforts on how to outsmart their counterparts and emerge in positions of power. Indeed, the world has become an even scarier place, as the veneer of civility quickly peels away.
Meanwhile, two NASA astronauts (Captain Samuel Phillip "Buck" Rodgers and Lieutenant Colonel John "Cal" Sanderson), join an unlikely group of colleagues on a secret mission to reach Vi-t-ry. Their goal – to learn more about the ship’s technology, discover the alien’s intentions toward the planet, and perhaps come up with a solution to avoid further chaos. Their fast-paced journey takes them from Mission Control to the Aerie (an underground, classified military installation) to a prototype ship appropriately named the Enterprise. As they launch toward their destiny, the stakes for Earth have never been higher! The story's reflection of the current political and economic climate is uncanny, especially as the novel was published two years prior to today's global woes. The author has a keen understanding of the underlying tensions between various nations, and he uses this knowledge to convincingly predict what would happen if a single, momentous event were to alter the perceived balance of power. The inherent warning is both relevant and timely. NASA comes alive within the narrative, with its focus on scientific, technical detail, the intricacies of its bureaucratic hierarchy, and its unflagging dedication to the overall mission. Hand in hand with this true-to-life portrayal is the extrapolation of future technology, which is reminiscent of the best 20th century science fiction writers. The steamed water propulsion system of the Enterprise is a particularly brilliant idea, a perfectly realistic stepping stone to more advanced space travel based on the world’s current technology base. The use of nanotechnology and the interplay between its magic vs. science perceptions is another great touch. The otherwise entertaining and thought-provoking story is marred by the widespread use of omniscient point of view. By choosing to tell readers how the various scenarios play out in the future, Saunders lessens both the emotional impact of the immediate action and the suspense that could be had as readers fill in their own conclusions about what's to come. The first few chapters also replay how the shuttle astronauts and space station scientists disappear in Book One. It seems the intent here was to fill in some of the missing blanks, but readers may find themselves impatient to get onto the new material. Regardless, the novel’s numerous revelations (including the fact that humans are very similar to the Kol-Pak, the race who built Vi-t-ry) will not only dispel many preconceptions about particular characters or story information established earlier – and therefore offer varying degrees of surprise, but they will whet the appetite for the third and final book (Light of the Homeworld), where the final fate of Mac Crowe and his companions stands revealed.
7/09 Reviewed by David Corwell, author of Legacy of the Quedana
Light of the Home World: Book Three of the Unknown Country
Unknown Country, ISBN: 978-0-6152-0757-5
Beyond the Milky Way, nearer to the galactic core, lies the planet Sul-Anroth. Once a center of interstellar recreation and trade, its advanced civilization was obliterated by war, its remaining survivors blasted back to the rudiments of a hunting and gathering existence. Yet the inhabitants struggled on, and, as the centuries passed, they developed new, distinct societies that continued to clash with one another, albeit on a smaller scale. Truth became myth – an incomplete memory of the past and a prophecy foretelling of a “long climb from darkness.” Thus, the adventure of Lieutenant Commander James “Mac” Crowe and his band of displaced astronauts/scientists continues in a time of great upheaval in Light of the Home World, the final book in the Unknown Country trilogy.
In Book One, the travelers had been separated by a battle between the Aranu and the reptilian People, Mac’s party seeking protection in the Rayattl (“a place of superstition and death”), while Rececca’s group is pursued – and pushed farther away - by various enemies. However, it turns out that the companion’s current predicament is the least of their worries, for an even more formidable and monstrous alien race (the Chalgu) has appeared. Their True Leader, Altil, is determined to find the One who caused their moon god (Vi-t-ry) to disappear and kill him using a dark, gruesome ritual called the Seven Steps. Only then can their deity be restored. As the Army of the Chalgu overruns the countryside like a plague, no one is spared from their brutal wrath. Mac soon emerges from the Rayattl with a new, unlikely ally – Shumak, the same commander of the People who sought to capture the humans! The man and lizard’s tentative friendship is not looked upon favorably by Clansmen and human alike, but it does lead to some pleasurable story twists. After reuniting with Rebecca’s group, Mac’s growing entourage makes its way to the Valley of the Moon, the winter gathering place of the Briss’y and Cal’dil clans. There, Mac must not only work to overcome centuries of hatred between the races, but also decide if he is truly the Drakil-at’sakaal, the savior of legend. The fact that Mac’s very presence tests the cultural and religious tenets of the aliens to their limits highlights the book’s underlying theme of change. While most people fear and resist anything outside their comfort zones, the author encourages readers to embrace new ideas in order to solve age-old prejudices. Only then can humanity reach new horizons. Pertinent advice for a troubled world. The last novel of a trilogy often holds greater weight than the first two books, as it is the hub that ties everything together, either bringing a story to a solid conclusion or breaking apart into a jumbled morass that never really comes together or makes sense. Is Saunders successful at weaving all his threads together? Yes and no. His portrayal of the conflicts between the alien races and the divisions within their own ranks, even in the face of a greater threat, is complex and realistic. Uneasy alliances teeter, ready to collapse at the slightest perceived insult, and friends themselves disagree over what should be done next, creating gulfs where none existed before. This underlying tension drives the story forward, never relenting, until the final battle for the Valley of the Moon. The Rayattl, with its amusing, sentient building concierge provides a good sense of the unified society that once existed. The beach of endless, bleached bones, on the other hand, is a stark reminder of the devastation of war. The contrasts are effective at illustrating what is at stake should the Chalgu win and what can be possible if the aliens band together. And like many good fantasy/science fiction writers, Saunders leaves open the possibility for further adventures in his universe. The reunion of the companions makes for a touching scene, but the separation itself feels unnecessary. For one, Rebecca’s party wanders aimlessly after ditching their pursuers, only to return to the Rayattl shortly thereafter, thereby discarding Niloc’s plan to start preparing the clans for the Drakil’s arrival. Mac’s sojourn behind the line of skulls yields some helpful information, yet exploring one building surely cannot fill in the bigger picture, the knowledge of which could have proved vital later on. The ending, while a bit unexpected, is both abrupt and simplistic. In addition, it utilizes a deus ex machina. Some readers will be left unsatisfied, particularly as a few story promises don't get unresolved. Stylistically, the narrative continues to be fraught with typos and misspellings. Yet, all in all, Light From the Home World ties its space saga together well, and the Unknown Country, as a whole, is an enjoyable, strong fictional series.
7/09 Reviewed by David Corwell, author of Legacy of the Quedana
The novella, Zahir, by Gregory Saunders is a great, quick read I could well imagine being made into a movie. The story begins in the Amazon, with a man from a survey crew hired by an oil company who is searching for a missing member of his party. Without giving too much away, suffice it to say he does not survive and a fresh crew, including a woman who serves as their Brazilian liaison and a Yanomamo Indian, is sent into the jungle to determine what has happened. Along the way to figuring out the demise of their colleagues, the new crew runs across a lost civilization, of sorts, deep in the Amazon where there should be no tribes living. This tribe of pygmy-like people lives at one with the jungle around them, referring to it as the Mother. Of course, the Mother must be fed… This novella was packed full of never-ending suspense and horror. The imagery was wonderful and the story just plain good. The only thing which detracts from it is the pervasive use of sentence fragments and some rather sloppy editing, which tended to take me away from the story briefly as I struggled to figure out what the author was truly trying to convey. That said, every book suffers from some editing mistakes and this would not be a reason to not buy this novella. Overall, author Saunders did a fantastic job of creating a suspenseful and exciting read which I highly recommend.