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Tropic of Creation
Kay Kenyon
Bantam Spectra, 528 pages

Tropic of Creation
Kay Kenyon
Kay Kenyon was raised in Duluth, Minnesota. She began working as a radio/TV copywriter for a local television station where she also did a weather show. Now, with several partners, she runs a transportation consulting firm, Mirai Associates. She and her husband recently moved to Wenatchee, Washington.

Kay Kenyon Website
ISFDB Bibliography

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Donna McMahon

Tropic of Creation is the second novel I've read by Seattle writer Kay Kenyon (the other was Rift) and both left me with that frustrating feeling that they should have been better books.

On a routine galactic mission, Captain Eli Dammond stumbles across the crew of a human warship that has been marooned on an uncharted planet for three years. Although the war is over (humans sued for peace with the ahtra a year ago, and an uneasy armistice is holding) it is Dammond's duty to search for evidence of mutiny or desertion. His investigation, however, turns up something far more interesting. This desert planet is riddled with underground tunnels -- excavated by their enigmatic enemy, the ahtra.

Dammond decides to explore by himself, breaks into a subterranean ahtra city and is captured. Intent on trying to escape, he is unaware that his presence has triggered a political crisis between a pro-war elite and the underclasses, who are more amenable to peaceful co-existence.

Meanwhile, waiting on the surface for Dammond's return, human crew members celebrate the first rains to fall in the desert in three years, but the monsoon triggers a massive ecological transformation from desert to jungle, and they soon discover that they are easy targets for an emerging horde of ravenous predators. Among the crew is 14-year-old passenger, Sascha, whose elite status as granddaughter of a general is suddenly worthless amid a desperate battle for survival.

It is difficult in a short summary to do justice to the plot of Tropic of Creation. Two sets of characters and plot threads (humans and ahtra) run through this novel, making for a complex story which is nonetheless coherent and straight-forward to follow.

The greatest strengths of this book lie in Kenyon's depiction of the planet's cyclical drought/jungle ecosystem, and her ahtra society, with its divisions between the static (stoic), fluxor (emotional), and gomin (outcasts). (Kenyon's original and well thought out aliens were also the best part of her other novel, Rift.) This depth, plus competently drawn characters and solid pacing, kept me reading, despite the lack of any one protagonist I could get attached to.

The weakest major character is Sascha, an improbably stable and mature young teen, whose actions and reactions become less and less credible as the book progresses. And the least interesting sequences are those where soldiers fight off predators on the surface -- we've seen those tough, terse, battle-scarred veterans and Jurassic Park-style massacres before.

Although Kenyon ties up all the plot threads in Tropic of Creation, I felt unsatisfied when I finished the book. The uneasy mix of thoughtful, original material with clichéd plot elements and characters robs Kenyon's novel of much of its potential. Still, I'll be watching for future titles. Kenyon clearly has the talent to write a real blockbuster, and I've got my fingers crossed.

Copyright © 2002 Donna McMahon

Donna McMahon discovered science fiction in high school and fandom in 1977, and never recovered. Dance of Knives, her first novel, was published by Tor in May, 2001, and her book reviews won an Aurora Award the same month. She likes to review books first as a reader (Was this a Good Read? Did I get my money's worth?) and second as a writer (What makes this book succeed/fail as a genre novel?). You can visit her website at

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