Pariah (Donovan series book 3) by W. Michael Gear (book review).

July 3, 2022 | By | Reply More

In the early days of pulp Science Fiction many of the aliens encountered were bipedal, built on the human structural model. Somehow they managed to speak English, so communication wasn’t a problem. Their minds worked in a similar way to ours. It was convenient.

It meant the writer could get on with the action. True, there were exceptions, such as Hal Clement’s many-legged Mesklins in ‘Mission Of Gravity’ or James White’s multitude of aliens in his ‘Sector General’ stories. Universal translators became a common means of communication.  W. Michael Gear has tried to get away from the standard tropes and create a plausible alien planet.

Pariah’ is the third of his ‘Donovan’ series of novels. The planet, orbiting the star Capella, was named Donovan after the first person to die there. It is a very dangerous place. Most of the flora and fauna would be very happy to eat you. Port Authority is the only town and it is inside a fifty-foot fence to keep the wildlife out.

Terrestrial plants grow well but native ones are poisonous due to the high heavy metal content of the soil. It is the heavy metals which make the planet worthwhile colonising. This is a series that, on the surface, is a high quality space opera harking back to the days when colonists were exploring the far corners of Earth. It pits people against the unknowns of the environment but there are many more undercurrents swirling about in these books.

The first volume, ‘Outpost’, introduced the planet, the problems and the main characters, some of whom survived into later volumes. The planet’s mining activities are owned by the Corporation. They ship out the workers, giving them only the positives of the jobs they are expecting to take up. When their contract is up, they get a ride home.

The method of interstellar travel is by a process called inversion. Not all ships make it. In ‘Outpost’, one arrives in the system a year late but the occupants have been on board for 150 years. For the ship that arrives at the start of ‘Pariah’, the people on board think they have travelled instantaneously rather than the expected two and half years. In reality, fifty years have passed since they left the Solar System. It is a scientific expedition and was supposed to have been observing a pristine world, untouched by humans.

Some of the background to the colonisation are explained through the behaviour and attitudes of two men who arrive on the Vixen. Tamarland Benteen was the hitman and lover of the woman who staged a failed coup for chairman of the board of the Corporation and he was a last minute replacement on the crew, an arrangement that meant he avoided certain death.

Benteen is an arrogant man and can’t be bothered to find out the true situation on Donovan. He doesn’t appreciate the reasons for the perimeter fence and sees the colony as a community which he can take over and rule as a dictator. His power grab doesn’t take into account the anarchistic structure of this society and the dangers that lurk outside. He is a man who thinks his way is right and willingly kills anyone that stands in his way.

Also on the ship is Dortmund Weisbacher. He has a string of academic titles and is a conservationist. When he left Earth there were two factions in the scientific world. The conservationists wanted to put the clock back, have large parts of the planet ‘re-wilded’ with only pure bloodlines.

Against them, the evolutionists believed that plants and animals could and should be allowed to adapt to a changing environment. He expected to find a pristine planet, uncontaminated by terrestrial organisms. It is a shock that he never quite gets over to find that in the missing fifty years, humans have contaminated ‘his’ planet. He is totally inflexible in his views which causes him to make drastic mistakes.

The scientists who have been on Donovan for a long time are still only beginning to understand the genetics. They have TriNA, a triple helix rather than our familiar double. By now, the human population has this genetic material in their systems. Gradually, they are beginning to work out the system that quetzals, the apex indigenous predator use to gain information.

When they eat humans, they expect to be ingesting knowledge. Talina Perez who has run security in Port Authority since volume one has TriNA in her tissues from several quetzals and her body and mind are being overloaded. The quetzals pass on inherited memory by consuming their elders when they die. They communicate by displaying colours on their bodies and in particular the neck ruff. Talina has to go on a spiritual journey to be able to survive her experiences.

Gear is very capable of handling all the strands of his story and conveys the attitudes of the characters excellently. The book is a fast, action-pack experience for the reader but he is quite capable of killing off cherished characters. After all, Donovan is a very dangerous world. So are many of the humans who have ended up there.

Pauline Morgan

July 2022

(pub: DAW, New York, 2019. 570 page hardback. Price: $26.00 (US), $35.00 (CAN), £ 9.00 (UK). ISBN: 978-0-7564-1343-9)

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Category: Books, Scifi

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