Yes, said the alien. By the standards of your race you are a monster — a freak — an accident of nature. But you are also their only hope.
Mars Lea knew it was true.
Author: Christopher Hinz
Rating: 3/5 stars
I find Christopher Hinz mildly frustrating in that he possesses plenty of writing talent but only a very small body of work in which to show it. He turned out four novels of moderate to high quality between 1987 and 1991, and that’s all (besides some comic book writing he’s done), and that’s a shame because I think he could have offered so much more. His Paratwa trilogy is one of my favorite works of science fiction ever, particularly the initial installment, Liege-Killer (which some of you know as my identity on several forums). Actually, I don’t know why I let so many years pass before reading his standalone novel, Anachronisms, but I’ve taken care of that little oversight at last. As it turns out, this novel unfortunately isn’t in the same class as the Paratwa series. There’s nothing especially unique or groundbreaking about it — in fact it’s constructed from some fairly familiar and well-worn sci-fi tropes. For what it is, though, it’s skillfully written, with engaging plot and credible characters, and keeps the reader’s interest on target from start to finish.
The future starfaring human civilization called the Corporeal has one major thing in common with today’s world: power is largely concentrated in huge corporations, the Consortiums. One way the Corporeal differs from today is that humanity is beginning to evolve a new trait — psionic abilities. These skills vary between individuals, from almost negligible (in most people) to quite powerful (in a few). Mars Lea is the most powerful psionic the Pannis Consortium has ever measured. For reasons of their own, they want her on a scientific expedition to the remote world of Sycamore, a planet which just might hold the first advanced alien life humanity has ever encountered. Mars Lea, for her part, just wants to escape for a while, to get away from society and its prejudice against her kind, those with enough psionic power to be noticeably different. So she accepts the posting on the starship Alchemon, one of a crew of seven including ship’s officers and company science reps.
Once they reach Sycamore, a world of harsh swirling storms and energy discharges, the crew is faced with a stunning discovery: some kind of entity that defies understanding, and that has apparently been stranded (or imprisoned?) there for half a million years. Under orders from Pannis, the scientists demand the lifeform be taken aboard ship and returned home. This is, of course, the beginning of Very Bad Things. Think Alien here, although with psionically-induced madness substituting for teeth and acid. The book shares that movie’s sci-fi/horror aesthetic, as well as the all-too-believable scenario of the greedy corporation putting its employees at risk for profit and power.
That gives the basic framework, although of course there is a lot more going on here. There’s an interesting physics angle, with the “chronomuting” starships. There’s the ship’s lieutenant who willingly embarks on the expedition, believing he will forfeit his life in furtherance of a personal vendetta. There’s alien manipulation on a vast scale. And there’s Mars Lea, like no human being before her, who must decide whether or not to fight for the very society that has shunned her for a lifetime.
The different elements of the book will remind you of various other books and movies involving prison planets, telepathic powers, and ships taken over by malevolent aliens. Even so, Hinz manages to avoid the potential for tedium in such a mixture, and produces, if not a gem, then at least a thoroughly enjoyable and readable tale that’ll pleasantly fill a few hours of your time. I’m glad I read it, and only wish more were available from this largely unknown author.