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Last Updated, August 2010



Note: Top cover is the official one; second is the pre-release edition which lacks Sawyer introduction

    by J. Brian Clarke

    Introduction by Robert J. Sawyer

    Edge, 2006. 336 pages

    Calgary (Alberta) author J. Brian Clarke writes good old-fashion hard SF. Indeed, much of this novel previously appeared in Analog as a series of short stories, now blended into a larger narrative.

    The storyline concerns the adventures of a group of astronauts who first colonize a planet of Alpha Centarui (thus the neolgisim, 'Alphanauts'). There are encounters with aliens and hyperinteligent computers and white supremist terrorists — in other words, the usual. I found Alphanauts an enjoyable, slightly nostlalgic, read: Clarke successfully transported me back to the summer when I was 13 and working my way through my brother's collection of Ace Doubles. As an adult, I have a couple of reservations, but my inner child pretty much loved this book.

    The novel is divided into six parts, roughly corresponding to the six novellettes upon which it was originally based. The first story is my least favorite: the premise did not make sense and some of the reactions seemed a bit extreme. But to his credit, Clarke never tires to explain 'the why' of the story, but simply poses the question of 'what if'? The premise is no more illogical than a typical Star Trek episode, and if I am not mistake this section started life as a cover sotry in Analog so maybe it is just me.

The rest of the novel is pretty entertaining, with some engaging aliens and situations. Carke's one flaw is that his protagonists are always to instantly deduce (correctly) what is going on and how everything works. They take a single glance at this alien or that artifact and announce the explanation to their colleagues (and the reader). The addition of a few wrong guesses, or various characters arguing for competitng interpretations, would have gone a long way towards making the novel more credible. I also had a minor problem with the coincidence of two alien cultures evolving in exactly the same way at the same pace to that they have identical outcomes when discovered by our heroes. But the foreshortening of the process of discovery to get on with the action, and the occasional lapses in logic, are very remininscent of television pacing, so again, reading Clarke is very much like watching new episodes of Star Trek. Worth tuning in for.

I should also mention the decent and relevant cover art by David Willicome, and the Rober Sawyer introduction, further examples of Edge 'getting it right'. If you happen to come across a copy of th pre-release edition with the other cover (still okay!) or lacking the Sawyer intro, no problem: the introduction's only purpose is to provide a big name testimonial. What makes the inclusion of the introduction truly fascinating is not what Sawyer has to say, but that he is writing this at all. Sawyer has his own Canadan SF imprint, so it speaks volumes about the Canadian SF community, and Rober J. Sawyer, that Sawyer is still willing to push books from a potential competitor. Feels good!

Reprinted from NeoOpsis Magazine #13, pp. 68-69