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The Wannoshay Cycle
Michael Jasper
Five Star, 370 pages

The Wannoshay Cycle
Michael Jasper
Michael J. Jasper grew up in the small town of Dyersville, Iowa, but he now lives with his wife Elizabeth in Raleigh, NC. He's tried bartending, teaching junior high, painting houses, being a secret shopper, working construction, and many more jobs; he prefers fiction writing. He has published stories in Asimov's, Strange Horizons, Gothic.Net, and The Raleigh News & Observer, among other venues.

Michael Jasper Website
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: Gunning for the Buddha

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Sherwood Smith


"The ships came in the middle of a nighttime blizzard not long after the New Year, falling to Earth like more wreckage dropped onto an already battered landscape."
The time is the near future, the place North America. The Internet is the Netstream, a kind of YouTube that has swallowed various communications media. Terrorist bombings are more frequent, there is a vicious street drug called Blur that turns addicts into monsters. The world, in short, has become a scary enough place before three alien space ships crash landed in the Midwest and over the border into Canada.

Father Joshua McDowell, a priest belonging to a poor church in Chicago, saw the ships come down the day he was attacked by junkies. This was not long after his heart attack. Balding and aging, the priest is that rarity these days in science fiction, a man with an actual calling, rather than a caricature hunting for the nearest underage choirboys. He ends up being the first non-military person to meet the aliens, who are immediately sequestered by the military. The aliens are enclosed inside a camp ferociously protected by perimeters. Linguists and medical techs are on hand to try to establish what the aliens need and want: when they finally begin to communicate, Johndo (John space Doe) makes it clear that the Wannoshay wish to speak to a religious man.

Michael Jasper's aliens are alien. Long bodies, lipless mouths topped by tentacles, gray feet -- one smells their moods. Father Joshua, on meeting Johndo, soon feels almost as if the alien's thoughts are burrowing inside his head. After a very strange conversation that ends with an act of violence from Johndo that hurts the alien more than it does the priest, the military aides take Father Joshua away. He's told the Wantas have a low stimulation threshold, and he's shown the underground tunnels the aliens have made. He sees hundreds of them... and also sees another attribute of theirs that disturbs him deeply.

We meet other characters who have far different motivations, like Ally Trang, who uses drugs as part of her creative process. She's on the hunt for the newest, hottest story to post on her blog/feed -- and will get it at any price. There's Shontera, a working woman who just wants to live a normal life, trying to raise her daughter and to exist on the income from her job at the brewery... until the government insists on bringing Wantas to work as part of their integration process. And there's Skin, who loves hunting, along with his two buds. But when he meets the aliens, his world view changes.

The story always comes back to Father Joshua, whose attempts to understand the aliens are both fascinating and heartbreaking as his frustration mounts. Humans keep reacting as humans typically do, the Wannoshay try to cope with an alien world that is really poisonous to them, and Father Joshua wants to find out their backstory so he can understand, so he can fix things, but is that even possible?

The human characters are all ordinary people, types we can recognize from our own lives. I was impressed by Jasper's crisp, vivid characterizations, his handling of action and emotional reaction. The contrast -- aliens I felt were very alien, interacting with realistic, believable humans -- kept me turning the pages. The tension winds tighter as sickness spreads through the Wannoshay and they strive to leave the planet. Who helps them, who tries to stop them, and why, brings on a cinematic climax.

Jasper published several parts of this novel as short stories. Four of these I read in his collection Gunning for the Buddha. I thought the Wannoshay stories standouts. Ordinarily these types of novels, with shorter work incorporated inside a larger work, are called fix-it novels. I tend to think of fix-it novels as discrete short pieces linked by a little transitional text, but here Jasper has deeply reworked the stories to interweave all these stories into one complex, fully integrated novel. The result is an absorbing work full of unflinching looks at what makes us human, how we might react to be faced with the truly incomprehensible.

Jasper framed the story briefly with some very short bits from the aliens' POVs. These didn't work as well for me -- I found the Wannoshay more interesting when we did not see inside their heads -- but that's the only quibble I had, and I think that some readers will find these short bits insightful and complementary to the whole.

The Wannoshay Cycle is a strong, absorbing book, well balanced between the real and the fantastic. I believe it works not just for genre readers, but it also would make an excellent introduction for mainstream readers curious about the genre of science fiction.

Copyright © 2008 Sherwood Smith

Sherwood Smith is a writer by vocation and reader by avocation. Her webpage is at

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