01/06/2012. Contributed by Andy Whitaker
pub: Solaris/Rebellion Publishing/HarperCollins. 318 page small enlarged paperback. Price: GBP 7.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-907992-84-1.
check out websites: www.solarisbooks.com and www.guyhaley.wordpress.com
There has been some acclaim for Guy Haley’s previous Science Fiction novel, ‘ Reality 36’, and this is carried over to this his new novel, ‘ Champion Of Mars’. Why the publishers felt it necessary to put two endorsements for his previous title on the back of this novel I will never know.
The latest novel from Guy Haley has two stories set thousands of years apart but which are interconnected. In the near future, we have Dr. Holland who has joined the Mars colonisation team to study the remnants of Martian life before it is all lost due to the terraforming process. In the far future, there is war on Mars and Yoechakenon, the Champion warrior of Mars fighting for the Twin Emperors. The description on the back cover says that the events following Dr. Holland’s find of an ancient relic in the caverns on Mars sends ripples through time affecting not only the present but the far future of Yoechakenon. I’m going to come back to this.
Quite often my opinion of a book can be heavily swayed by how it ends. With some books, how all the threads are finally woven into a complete whole and loose threads identified for the follow-on may have more of an influence on my final opinion then how we got to the ending. With this book, the first third of the novel reads as unrelated stories that happen to be set on Mars. The chapters concerning Dr. Holland’s exploits are describing a believable environment where the scientists have minimal resources with no home comforts. Their work is not the main concern of the company terraforming Mars which hopes to make a profit by providing a habitat for Humans. The native Martian life is seen as a curiosity.
The chapters of the far future are written in an almost whimsical poetic style from the viewpoint of Yoechakenon’s spirit lover, Kaibeli. To give you an example, try this, ‘ Slender trees march up the vertical planes until defeated by gravity, the uppermost tops breaking like waves halfway up the spires and cliffs in an extravagant spume of flowers.’
The first chapter opens up with Kaibeli narrating the events of the war and, in particular, of Yoechakenon. Kaibeli is a tally-master for the Quinarchy, with her consciousness contained within smartdust, which moves about the battlefield under her control. There is reference to a second world as the medium through which all of Kaibeli’s information and feelings will be made available to her masters. If you are wondering who the Quinarchy are and what the second world is, then you are not alone, so am I and I have had the advantage of reading a third of the book. This is a source of frustration as there are instances where you have to take things as given with no understanding. At one point Kaibeli sends Whispers to guard Yoechakenon. There’s no explanations to let you know what Whispers may be.
Proceeding Yoechakenon’s time, there has been three wars with the Stone Kin. These are enigmatic creatures from the higher dimensions trying to break through to our three spatial dimensions. These wars have had a lasting effect on Mars, cutting it off from the rest of the Solar System. Kaibeli recounts Yoechakenon’s actions during and after a Martian civil war where he renounces the status of Champion and is forced to fight as a gladiator. Eventually, he is called to a meeting with the Emperor and tasked with finding the missing Librarian of Mars, which forms the major part of the novel.
Dr. Holland’s tale proceeds at a slightly slower pace and I could not help but be reminded of the films ‘ The Abyss’ and ‘ Sphere’ storylines. During Dr. Holland’s one and only excursion to study the native eco-system, there is a minor earthquake that leads him to discover an alien artefact. After the find, strange things start to happen and disaster strikes at the base camp. The company sends in their top specialists, which only makes things worse as further disasters including fatalities occur.
Some chapters cover the time period between the events of Dr. Holland and Yoechakenon. At first, these seem somewhat unrelated to the two main stories, although they are set on Mars. As you get beyond the first third of the novel, these chapters start to make some sense and things drop into place, although you do have to think about what has been read and extrapolate. As you progress through the chapters the tales of Dr Holland and Yoechakenon continue but it is not until the epilogue that the link between the characters of the near future and the far-future stories is revealed.
While the ending does its job, there is so much of the story that is not fully explained. It is hard to give specifics without providing spoilers but I want to come back to the point about ripples through time. This bit seemed to be missing from the story I read. While the alien artefact had an effect that caused a particular event to occur that does affect Yoechakenon and Kaibeli this was only disclosed in the epilogue. There is no real explanation of how the artefact came to be there and you have to deduce what it is although there are enough clues given.
I also felt that the war with the Stone Kin was not fully covered. Why was there a war in the first place? A reason is given for why they want to enter our three-dimensions but this hardly seems like a pretext for war. There is so much of this story that could be debated as to its exact meaning or relevance. Perhaps it will be better on a second or third reading. I think that might put me in a rather small group of people as I can envisage many people giving up on this story unless they get through the first third of the book. Up to that point, there are too many unconnected chapters to provide a coherent story.
In trying to provide a recommendation in this review, I have to conclude that while it has the basics of a very good story, the various stories are only loosely bound together by a common thread and there are just too many omissions in background detail to make it a good read.
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