- Published on Amazon.com
Format: Mass Market Paperback
I found this on my bookshelf last week, a viginal paperback from 1996 that I had never read. Don't know why, but that's pretty unusual for me. Anyway, the back cover blurb, which undoubtedly convinced me to buy it in the first place, was still interesting so I picked it up and started reading. The first part of the novel is a more or less standard, near-future SF adventure in which the US has become the sole possessor of remarkable technologies, including immortality, that was discovered (and somehow kept secret from the rest of the world) during a series of lunar expeditions in the middle of the 21st century. Not long after this, something that the US discovered on the Moon scared them so badly that they abandoned their space program, closed their borders allowing virtually no one in or out of the country, and retreated into total isolationism.
The real story begins some 70 years later as two teams of Arabs and Chinese finally launch their own missions to they Moon simultaneously to find what the Americans found and bring back home the technology for their own country's use. As they approach the Moon, they receive a warning from the US to stay away or else, and the US launches a spacecraft that reaches the moon in 3 hours instead of weeks. The Americans arrive and destroy the Arab and Chinese landers with advanced tech weaponry, but not before some of each landing party manage escape the landers and break into the old American base, and discover the secret of the alien tech that the Americans had found decades before. The secret turns out to be a system of stargates (Stargate, anyone?) that instantly transport people and things to... well just about anywhere. The Americans arrive, guns ablazing, but not before one Chinese and several Arabs escape through the stargaze. The remainder of the novel is quest to find their way back home.
There was a lot to like here, but also a few things that bugged me. Barton's writing style uses a lot of first person perspective that switches often. He also expresses first person thoughts without quote or italics, so I often had to flip back and forth to determine whose thoughts I was reading and or who was talking.
There were a large number of literary and current cultural allusions to SF books and movies, regular literature ("Heart of Darkness) and other things. This was cute at first, but started to become a little annoying when there were entire characters, scenes and worlds appropriated straight of of the works of folks like Edgar Rice Burroughs, EE Doc Smith, Philip José Farmer, and Robert Heinlein. In fact, pretty much the entire multiverse reality vs fantasy (or SF) thing was straight out of Heinlein's "The Number of the Beast" and his other sequels to "Time Enough for Love". And the last longish section of the book straight out of Farmer's "Riverworld" series. Homage is one thing. This was a little bit over the top, I think.
I actually found the scenario about the isolation of the US among the hardest to believe in the book (and there are a lot of really fantastic things going on). By the mid 21st century dozens of countries would have possessed sufficient tech to listen in, fly over and photograph, stealthily infiltrate - any one of dozens of ways to discover what the US had found on the Moon and spread it among the rest of the world. From another point of view (and this was both before and after I knew what exactly happened on the moon) how could the US have though that it had the right to claim the Moon and what was found there as its own property and lock the rest of the world out? And if we come close to annihilating ourselves in a nuclear holocaust over tiny patches of desert scrubland in the Middle East, how could the rest of the world sit back and let the US fold up shop and withdraw into its own borders? But perhaps I quibble too much.
Finally, why did what happened to Dale Millikan happen only to him and not to everyone else who went through the gates? His character represents a fascinating and interesting twist, but sorry, although I do understand what happened to him, I don't understand at all why, and why only him.
My complaints in the last three paragraphs lowered my rating from 4 stars to 3.5, rounded down to 3, so if these things sorts of things don't bother you, I'm pretty confident that you will like this one. I intend to try at least one more by Barton, as well as giving this a re-read at some point.