by Bruce Golden
Cover Artist: Daniele Serra
Review by Carolyn Crow
Zumaya Publications, LLC Paperback ISBN/ITEM#: 9781934841327
Date: 12 June 2009 List Price $17.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /
Do we own our environment, or does it own us? Is our planet ours to do what we will with? And, if so, what does the planet itself think about it?
Those are questions human environmentalists have long asked, but it's not Earth that's the subject of Bruce Golden's new novel Evergreen. And though there's an underlying environmental theme, that's not what the book's about. Despite the beautiful and mysterious milieu Golden's created for the planet Evergreen, this is a story about the characters--the humans who come from Earth. It's told from several viewpoints, all the while exploring emotional conflicts and human foibles ranging from revenge and redemption to love and obsession.
You won't find much futuristic technology in this tale. Evergreen is a frontier planet where the high-tech hardware is limited by solar activity and the planet's magnetic field. Solar power is the colonists' only form of energy other than muscle and sweat. The colony was initially built on the backs of its indentured lumberjacks, though the company that owns the planetary mineral rights has begun setting up mining operations it believes will provide the ultimate payoff.
A man known by the name of Gash is one of these timber jockeys. He's got a past he's trying to forget, and he makes use of the local narcotic to ease his pain--until he's recruited by the colonists to join their insurrection against the company. This rebellion, led by a colorful saloon owner, is only one of several storylines that crisscross and eventually converge for an almost surrealistic climax.
The novel unfolds when an ancient artifact is discovered on Evergreen, a heretic priest back on Earth becomes convinced it's the link that will prove his theory about the existence of an extraterrestrial City of God. Dr. Nikira leads an expedition to Evergreen that includes compatriots from his native Kenya, a renowned archaeology professor, his wife and estranged son. Unknown to the professor, his wife has recently put an end to a brief but passionate affair with her stepson. She chastises herself for the weakness that led her to the affair, and is now determined to stay true to her husband. However, when the son unexpectedly joins the expedition, she must deal with the constant temptation of his presence.
Traveling aboard the same ship that will take them to Evergreen is Eamon, a young man wracked by both guilt and a need for vengeance. After years of searching, Eamon believes he's tracked down the man responsible for his mother's death. He intends to find the man and kill him. In order to do so, he has contracted himself to join the timber jockey workforce, which is made up mostly of debtors and convicts. Though the lessons he learns along the way may be a bit obvious, I found the naivety of his character appealing.
At this future point of man's exploration of space, several inhabitable planets have been discovered, but, as yet, not a single intelligent species outside of mankind has been found. However, an exobiologist studying a primate species on Evergreen believes these creatures (pongoursus evergreeni) may be only millennia away from developing a sort of primitive intelligence. She'll discover the "ursu" have a past as well as a future.
I found the ursu to be one of the most interesting facets of the book. There's a mystery that surrounds them. It seemed to me, from a certain thematic viewpoint, they represented primitive man on Earth.
While the potential of the ursu's intelligence is debatable, another intelligence on Evergreen is not. This one's not so readily visible. I won't give it away, but this is the literary centerpiece that connects the various character pieces of this tale, and brings them together at the end.
As for the relevant issue of the environment, it's not something Golden slaps you across the face with. No character ever broaches it--there's no editorializing. But, by the end of the book, the questions are evident. Should mankind be allowed to do whatever he wants with whatever planet he encounters? By extension, should he be able to do whatever he wants with planet Earth?
One of the most enjoyable features of this book is the way Golden sets up each and every payoff. The foreshadowing is subtle, but it builds dramatically and informatively. We get a little piece here, a little tidbit there, until the entirety of it unfolds. One obvious example comes with the character Gash, who experiences these mental flashbacks from the thing that haunts him. Each time he flashes back, we get a little bit more of what actually happened--what led him to Evergreen.
This book does require a bit of an investment. Because of the number of characters, it may take half-a-dozen chapters or more to get a handle on who's who, and the conflicts of each. But if you stick with it, I think you'll find the investment quite rewarding. I did. Because Evergreen has everything you look for in a great science fiction read. Believably tormented characters, unique world-building, realistic dialogue, adventure, exploration, alien lifeforms, conflict, resolution…when the book ended I wanted more. I wanted more of this alien world, and wanted to know more about what happened to these characters next--at least those who still survived until the final page.