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Issue #131 - July 2006

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The Coming of the Martians

By Cheryl Morgan

Edge is a Canadian small press whose books I keep meaning to review and never quite got round to. Finally I have found a space in the schedule for the debut novel of Rebecca K. Rowe. Forbidden Cargo appears on the surface to be cyberpunk, but actually it is yet another twist on the Frankenstein theme. Let me explain what I mean.

We begin on Mars, where mankind and the planet are getting to know each other. On the one hand, terraforming is making the red planet more habitable. On the other, genetic engineering is being used to develop humans more suited to their new environment. The first generation of Imagofas is entering adulthood and the kids are looking forward to doing some serious work.

Unfortunately, genetic engineering of humans is illegal. The Interplanetary Council banned it years ago. Reactionary Councilors such as Joli Xerkler are afraid that messing with human evolution will create a race of supermen who will destroy or enslave ordinary humans. On learning that the Order, a powerful scientific research organization, is developing the Imagofas, Xerkler arranges to have one kidnapped and brought to Earth for a show trial.

Thatís the set-up, and Rowe does a good job of making things nicely complicated. Other players enter the game. Commercial organizations such as Domus Aqua want the Imagofas for the scientific secrets behind the development. Angel, the crime lord hired by Xerkler to make the snatch, bags two Imagofas girls, hoping to sell one of them. And the Order, desperate not to be exposed, tries to destroy Angelís ship, resulting in an explosion at the spaceport, and both Imagofas separately ending up loose on Earth with no friends and running for their lives. The Cadet, a "gamer" (effectively a professional gladiator) ends up being hired by both Xerkler and Domus Aqua to find the Imagofas, both of them thinking only one is to be had. This would have been the deal of a lifetime if he hadnít fallen in love with one of the beautiful fugitives.

Thereís more too. For example, the religious cult based around prophecies of a new race of humans, or the political organization dedicated to freeing cyberspace from commercial control. Most interestingly, Joli Xerklerís husband, Creid, is a former Order chief scientist. He knows all about the Imagofas, but has been afraid to tell his bigoted wife. Whatís more, he has an even more explosive project of his own. The personal complications for Joli, being forced to choose between her husband and a political career based on extreme speciesism, makes for a potentially powerful novel.

Unfortunately the book is a first novel, and Rowe isnít quite up to carrying off the power of her ideas. There are a lot of sections where she tells you what characters are thinking and feeling. Some of the dialog feels stilted. And there are some odd-looking sentences. The book could have done with a good copy editor. We all lose our grip on grammar occasionally and write things that just donít parse. I have Anne to put me right when that happens. It looks like Rowe didnít have anyone.

This is a real shame. The complexity of the plot shows that Rowe has a lot of promise as a novelist. She has also managed to wrap everything up without a cataclysmic final shoot-out, which I rather like. If her next book has the same quality of the plot and an improvement in the writing sheíll be on her way to a successful career.

Forbidden Cargo - Rebecca K. Rowe - Edge - trade paperback

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Emerald City - copyright Cheryl Morgan - cheryl@emcit.com
Masthead Art copyright Steven Stahlberg (left) and Gerhard Hoeberth (right)
Additional artwork by Frank Wu & Sue Mason
Designed by Tony Geer
Copyright of individual articles remains with their authors
Editorial assistants: Anne K.G. Murphy & Kevin Standlee