Monday, September 28, 2009

Book Review: Land of the Dead by Thomas Harlan

Out in the vast darkness between stars, in an area of space called the Land of the Dead, something ancient has been found. It tore apart a fleet of starships, ripping them to shreds and there seems to be no way to approach the object. Plus it has drawn the attention of humanity and the many alien races that share the galaxy with us, all hoping to secure whatever it is for their own benefit. With this science fiction backdrop, Land of the Dead then uses a very familiar story type – from the fantasy genre. A group of wildly different characters slowly gather together to go on a quest – in this case to uncover this ancient secret. There’s the former starship captain who took the fall for the loss of a battle that wasn’t his fault, looking for a chance to redeem himself. There’s also his former executive officer, who now commands a starship of her own and must deal with a prince who is commanding the fleet and believes he can do no wrong. There’s the brilliant archeologist fighting the racial prejudices stacked against her, because in this alternate history universe, the Japanese made contact with the Aztecs, and those races grew to preponderance on Earth – so being of European descent actually places you in the minority. Then there’s the enigmatic priest who may or may not know more about what they are going to face in the void. There are alien pirates, space battles and more intimate military style battles between the crews of as various ships are boarded and raided. The former captain has to face up to his reputation as he helps recover the escape pods from the ships destroyed at the very beginning of the novel, while the archeologist searches for a way into this treacherous part of space – so that they can finally learn the secrets therein. More than just Space Opera, Thomas Harlan’s Land of the Dead takes aspects of the Fantasy literature ‘quest’ and mixes it with the historical investigation more likely to be found in a modern adventure novel as well as the hard hitting action of a military thriller into a very satisfying combination. Yes, it’s a little too dependant upon Mayan legends and folklore, a little too connected to it’s own alternate history (I’m not convinced it needs to be BOTH a science fiction series set in the future AND have an alternate history past as well) – but even if you choose to ignore that aspect, it works well as a Science Fiction Adventure novel, and will keep you turning the pages to see where the story is going to go.

No comments: