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The Stonehenge Gate by Jack Williamson

01/10/2005. Contributed by Laura Kayne

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pub: TOR/Forge. 313 page hardback. Price: $24.95 (US), $34.95 (CAN). ISBN: 0-765-30897-5.

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'A burst of curiosity propels mild-mannered English professor Will Stone and his three friends to excavate a site where radar has evidently detected huge, assembled stones hidden beneath the sand. There they stumble upon an ancient artefact that will change their lives and the world forever...a gateway between planets, linking Earth to distant worlds, where they will discover wonders and terrors beyond imagining.'

Although Hugo-prize winner Jack Williamson's latest novel may sound like the outline to a 'Stargate' series, it's actually quite different. The story of four scientists' trip through a Stonehenge-like artefact situated in the Sahara desert is narrated by Will Stone, not your usual hero-type. His friend Ram tells a tale of his great-grandmother, known as 'Little Mama', who escaped a hell filled with 'metal devils' and reached Africa. Her legacy has left Ram with an unusual crown-shaped birthmark and a pendant with matching markings. While excavating the site of the stones, Ram stumbles through a gateway, discovering the pendant acts as a key to the stone gates. His friends have no choice but to follow him. Thrown into a cold, dead world, Will is confused, disorientated and just wants to return to Earth. The only trouble is that they soon find that the gateway only works one-way. So they go onward.

While Will just wants to go home, Ram is curious as to which of the seven eerie and abandoned planets the gate system takes them to is 'Hell'. Each one appears stranger than the next, full of robots, moving pavement-walkways, huge mountains and two or three suns each. The mysteries mount up. Their two companions, Lupe and Derek, want to unravel the mysteries and search for scientific and archaeological remains until Lupe is taken by what appears to be a half-living, half-robotic giant insect. Then the search is on not just for answers and a way back to Earth but also to find their missing friend.

The travels continue, until they finally come to an inhabited planet. The people there are human, civilised, but caught in an on-going civil war between white and black. Ram's birthmark soon catches the attention of black rebel leaders who believe it proclaims him as the son of an ancient god.

'The Stonehenge Gate' is a readable enough book, with some detailed descriptions of alien worlds and landscape. The characters are perhaps not as fully-formed as one would hope and the pace is a little slow to begin with. It does pick up, though, and becomes entertaining as the tension increased. The matter-of-fact, blunt acceptance of the characters to interplanetary travel and alien worlds and people put me off a little, but overall the idea is solid if somewhat predictable in places. The mysteries stay until the final chapters and you can decide for yourself whether all the questions are answered fully.

Laura Kayne

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