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The Green And The Gray
Timothy Zahn
Tor, 443 pages

The Green And The Gray
Timothy Zahn
Timothy Zahn's SF career began by selling SF stories to Analog magazine while he was a physics grad student at the University of Illinois. When his thesis advisor died, he decided to write full-time. He started with hard SF, writing the Cobra series of military SF novels. In 1984, he won a Hugo for his novella "Cascade Point." His writing has a distinctly humanistic touch, so it seems obvious to some that Theodore Sturgeon was an early influence. Zahn is perhaps best-known as one of the original authors commissioned to write novels in the Star Wars realm.

ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: Star Song and Other Stories
SF Site Review: Manta's Gift
SF Site Review: Angelmass
SF Site Review: Icarus Hunt
SF Site Review: Star Wars: Specter of the Past

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Nathan Brazil

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"Let me guess," Roger said, his voice graveyard dark. "They were at war with a people who called themselves the Grays."

"Very good." Velovsky said bitterly. "The same Grays, in fact, who now threaten to destroy everything the Greens have spent the past seventy-five years building. They want to begin the war all over again, to finish what they started on their home world."

It begins at night, in Riverside Park on the edge of Manhattan Island, where a small group has gathered for a ceremony. They are of two distinct racial types, one being dark-haired and olive-skinned, while the others are shorter and built like wrestlers. The groups have come to seal a deadly bargain, intended to stop an old war reigniting. The price, is the life of a 12-year-old girl named Melantha Green. But, before the sacrifice can be made, a mysterious figure saves Melantha, and in the confusion, whisks her away. Not long after we meet Roger and Caroline Whittier, a New York City couple in their 20's, who have chosen to walk the few blocks to home after seeing a play off Broadway. The couple are waylaid by a gunman, but this is no mugging. The man hands over his weapon, along with a semi-conscious young girl, who looks as if someone has tried to strangle her. Before any questions can be asked, the man has vanished into the darkness, leaving Roger and Caroline alone with the helpless girl. They decide to take her to their home, before calling the authorities.

What follows is a fast paced character rich story, which feels like a slicker, updated version of an old, 50s SF movie. Timothy Zahn takes the well worn idea of aliens among us, and gives it a few new tweaks. Also injected into the mix is something not often seen in SF literature, the realistic portrayal of a marriage. The Whittier's have not been getting along for some months, but now they have more pressing matters to deal with, and a mystery to unravel. Among those who also become involved are an aged but spry former Ellis Island clerk, Otto Velovsky, and New York Detective Thomas Fierenzo. It is Fierenzo who believes that a gang war is about to break out, between the Greens and the Grays, and he is determined to stop it. As the Whittier's and Fierenzo work to protect Melantha, and their city, they are gradually immersed in the cultures of the two groups. Greens and Grays are both able to pass for human, and unknown to each other, both arrived in the United States as refugees from a war they each claim the other started. For almost three quarters of a century, neither Greens nor Grays realised that their old enemies had also come to Earth. Until a young Grey boy became friends with a young Green girl. Unfortunately, she has a rare and dangerous talent, which has almost tipped the two sides into urban warfare.

The Grays have an affinity with electronics and construction, plus the ability to climb up walls unaided. Some among them have advanced communications devices, and are armed with sound-based weapon-tools, called hammer guns which work like Thor's hammer. The Greens have a kind of telepathy, and are able to emit a debilitating shriek. They can also hide or sleep inside trees, like the wood nymphs of legend. Green society is formally aligned according to special talents, which manifest at puberty. Some Greens possess special devices called trassks, which appear to be large brooches, but can be mentally commanded to fashion themselves into a variety of objects such as knives, throwing disks and simulated guns. Both sides have integrated into human society, but only on the surface. Privately, the Greens and the Grays keep strictly within their own communities, obedient to their ancient hierarchies, and ruled by cultures based on paranoia and racial hatred. The human cast have to contend with their alien friends ingrained lack of trust, as well as working out who is telling the truth, and trying to keep Melantha Green from harm.

There's always a lot going on, with around 30 major characters, but Zahn is careful to keep his main players at the centre. The mystery of who the Greens and Grays really are, and where they came from, was just as interesting as their present. A few holes in the back story made me frown. For example, both groups arrived on Earth in the mid-1920s, using what are sparsely described as transports. These large vessels have supposedly remained hidden underwater, along the shoreline. The excuse given for not moving or using them for anything more than hydroponics and storage, is that they'll show up on human sonar. I found it hard to believe that any ship capable of moving through space or time would not be equipped with an ECM suite. Similarly, the history of how the war between Greens and Greys began, is about as flimsy as a paper house. I also had difficulty believing that two alien groups, physiologically different to humans, could live in the heart of a city like New York, for decades and post-9/11, without a single one being detected. But, leaving these issues aside, when The Green And The Gray is in the present, it hums along like a well oiled machine, purring whenever the topic is relationships, and changing into high gear for the action scenes. All divided into inviting chunks of fluent, breezily written text, which are ideally sized for reading on the way to work, or last thing at night.

Copyright © 2005 Nathan Brazil

Nathan Brazil
If Nathan Brazil were dyslexic, he'd be the dog of the Well world. In reality, he's an English bloke who lives on an island, reading, writing and throwing chips to the seagulls. Drop by his web site at www.inkdigital.org.


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