Tainted Trail by Wes Spencer
List Price: $6.99
Paperback: 320 pages Publisher: Roc; ISBN: 0451458877; (June 4, 2002) 
Review by Ernest Lilley
Check out this book at: Amazon US

Tainted Trail is the sequel to:
Alien Taste by Wen Spencer
List Price: $6.99 Paperback: 320 pages; Publisher: Roc; ISBN: 0451458370
(July 10, 2001)

Check out this book at: Amazon US

Ukiah Oregon. It's a town in the northern part of the state, and if we had read Alien Taste, the first book in this series, we would have learned that it was where a feral wolf-boy was taken into captivity by two women who adopted him (legally or not, I'm not sure). As well as the name they gave him.

Now Ukiah's a PI living in Pittsburgh, and nobody looks at him oddly because his name is the same as a town. That is, until he and his partner Max are called back to Oregon to find a missing hiker, a friend from the back east who went west to discover geology, and maybe something more. Something that wants to stay hidden.

Ukiah is a tracker. Sure, it's something that growing up with wolves taught him, and his Native American blood might have something to do with it, but what really sets him apart is the ability to track at a full run, reconstruct a physical profile from the taste of a strand of hair, and the ever popular ability to regenerate his body after being killed.

It's no surprise to find out that he's an alien human hybrid. Though little human actually remains, except his form. Since he was born to an Indian woman, his "fathers" alien cells have supplanted his human cells, and the human host body only gives him shape, and the memory of being human.

Actually, his memory is pretty spotty about his early years, more like totally blank. Every cell in his body is an autonomous creature, sharing thoughts and memories, returning home to the main body even after being separated...like with an axe for instance.

So what is he really? "He's a good kid" swears Max, his older partner, who took him under his wing in the first book. For the most part, they do try to keep his alien side under wraps, but if you hang out long enough, like Sam, the attractive female PI looking into the rash of murders and disappeared hikers in the area and consequently tagging along with Ukiah and Max, you'll see enough weird shit go down to decide that alien is really one of the easier explanations to accept. Did I mention that he's over 200 years old, but looks like he's 16?

While he's in the neighborhood, Ukiah goes looking for his real human family, based on some clues in an old newspaper article.  Jared Killing Deer, the dominant male of his family, and the local sheriff, doesn't much like the idea that Ukiah is the missing "uncle" of family legend...and isn't too keen on being convinced. He does admit that Ukiah is a hell of a tracker though.

Ukiah has a girlfriend offstage, a part Chinese FBI agent named Indigo Zheng, who's keeping an eye on his son/clone/separated cellular cluster. That all happened in the first book too. If he can stay alive long enough he'd like to marry her and be a good dad/clone-sibling/major cellular cluster. Not that he's all that easy to kill, but folks keep trying.

Is Ukiah the only alien around? Not by a long shot. There's no MIB conspiracy here, but Wen Spencer has taken a bunch of classic UFO/Alien plot lines and mixed them in with a lot of American weirdness to come up with a pretty engaging set of characters.

The good guy aliens are called the "Pack", and they all stem from a single ship crash survivor they refer to as "Prime". They look human, or at least as human as any biker gang in the southwest, and they're devoted to the destruction of the bad guy aliens who came in on the same ship. A ship lost somewhere in these mountains. The bad guys are called the Ontongard, and they believe in peace though oneness. Both are really just intergalactic pond scum, sentient viruses that take over hosts and live through them. Prime believed in the individual, and Ontongard went for the collective. It's Right Wing Alien Viruses against Commie Alien Viruses!

Descendants of Prime go in heavily for dog and wolf metaphors and sociology, calling younger ones "Cub" and referring to themselves as the Pack. I think it would have been more fun if the Ontogard had a cat fetish to match...but neither side is in it for fun and the author didn't go there.

As our story unfolds, it's been about two hundred years since the crash, and both strains are slowly spreading through the human population, so you have enclaves of each across the country fighting each other. They can be killed, but it aint easy.

I like these guys. Max, the seasoned human PI, uses a PDA, they both use cell phones with headsets and GPS trackers, so they're my kind of geeks. They both have a lot of what we think of as better human qualities. One of the benefits of starting out as half human is that Ukiah has human feelings, compassion, guilt, and love. If those are benefits.

So what you've got here is a sort of Twin Peaks meets the X-Files adventure with some good old gumshoe action thrown in. It's a pretty good mix, and probably worth going back to read the first book, Alien Taste, to get the full story. I'm a bit suspicious of Wen Spencer's depth of understanding of the American Indian community, as I suspect she's an Anglo. Then again, Tony Hillerman is an Anglo Okie...and I hear that Navaho kids love his books.

Offhand, I don't know if any American Indians are writing Science Fiction. If there are, I'd certainly like to read some of it. Raised on Hollywood Indians of the 60s and beyond, my programming is to think of American Indians as a highly honorable and spiritual people, whom the whites have repeatedly shortchanged. I doubt that my perspective has much more truth in it than the opposite view, and I'd welcome some authentic voices to listen to.

None of which spoils my enjoyment of the ongoing adventures of Ukiah Oregon, Alien/Indian/PI/Ex-Wolf-Boy.

 

2002 Ernest Lilley / SFRevu