The seductive combination of a beautiful cover by Paul Lehr, a seldom read author, a fascinating premise (well, at least from the back cover) appeared at first glance a glorious chance for the pen to wax delightfully on the glories everyone else missed out on.
As much as the esotericist delights in searching through back catalogues of dusty books the lack of extant information/reviews on the work entails risk. If I had known the entire plot revolves around a vengeful/vindictive/insane man inflicting tortures (the PG-13 sort) on an unsuspecting family hanging out in space — à la a watered down version of Michael Haneke’s Funny Games (1997) without its postmodern deconstruction of our desire to watch violence — I would have never spent my hard-earned $2.00 on a copy.
That said there might be more to offer for a fan of “horror” sci-fi (albeit, no chest bursting/tentacle wagging/larva inserting aliens). But I get the sense that despite the ample amount of tension the true adrenaline pumping “fear” quotient is paltry at best.
Brief Plot Summary (limited spoilers)
Dave and Alicia Perry leave an overpopulated Earth with their two children (Kathy and Jackie) for a posting on Emergency Landing Station No. 17 (a landing place for damaged spaceships) located on a barren planet somewhat near Earth. Charbonneau has no real conception of interstellar distance because one of the characters “sees” Earth larger (haha) than other stars from the planet — which is simply bogus unless you’re close to Earth in the same solar system.
EMS No. 17 is equipped with state of the art projection technology which recreates scenes from Earth to keep the family sane during their multi-year stay. This fascinating aspect (kind of like Star Trek’s holographic technology) is never really utilized to its greatest social/visual effect.
The family members spend their time taking care of the station and watching for damaged space ships in the Tower — the only point of the station above ground A series of mysterious events occur. Jackie, Dave’s adopted son, runs into a spiky plant (never really explained). Alicia’s programmable dress machine aborts some hideous dresses. Dave, perched in the Tower’s air hoisted observation chair, plummets to the ground. Kathy sees a mysterious ghost ship during her stint in the Tower.
Eventually the family figures out that a man has infiltrated the base and has nefarious schemes up his sleeve!
The story devolves into a let’s kill the evil intruder trying to steal Jackie and rape the two women… Atrocious. Not my cup of tea.
That said there are some fascinating themes. For example, since the family lives so far from Earth for so long fake Earth environments have to be created — projections of a perfect Earth house, populated streets, parks… None of the themes are fleshed out in a thought provoking way. Horrible decisions fill the pages. The basic reason (although it gets slightly more complicated at the end of the novel) for the intruder’s presence is downright silly.
If you find the book in your local bookstore gaze a moment at the Paul Lehr cover and set it back down. Avoid.