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Belarus
Lee Hogan
Roc Books, 402 pages

Belarus
Lee Hogan
Belarus is Lee Hogan's first novel.

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A review by Donna McMahon

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I started Belarus with high hopes. A cast of Russian protagonists promised a refreshing change from the usual Americans-in-space fare.

Andrei Mironenko, a member of one of the powerful families that controls the galactic Republic, is fulfilling the dream of his 337-year lifetime as he leads a fleet of colony ships to settle the newly terraformed planet Belarus.

Also fulfilling her career dreams is world engineer Tally Korsakova, but Tally is worried by the abandoned alien spaceships orbiting Belarus. Although the damaged hulks are twenty thousand years old, Tally isn't sure their alien builders are dead. Perhaps they will return. Or perhaps the aliens, shielded by an advanced technology, are hiding somewhere on Belarus....

Belarus is a novel with a bit of everything. It has a tsar, insectoid aliens, intergalactic war, the Baba Yaga (a Russian legend), space colonies and a network of biomachines that have formed an artificial intelligence. What this book doesn't have is focus.

The biggest problem with Belarus is that the characters exist to serve the story, and they are tossed around by circumstance instead of moving events. Even a romance between the two protagonists is sandwiched halfheartedly between the action. Lee Hogan relies on plot to generate tension and fails to give the reader any compelling human conflict with which to connect.

The characters have a further problem -- they come across as Americans in ethnic costume, rather than people from a foreign culture -- and the planet is a much too convenient recreation of 19th century Eastern Europe, minus all the intervening history. I found this particularly hard to swallow. For example, why would anybody in the 30th century volunteer to live as a low-tech peasant under a tsarist regime?

This isn't a terrible book. The writing is solid. The characters are competently drawn. And there's lots of action. But it comes across as an unhappy mishmash of Russian history, space opera, and The Silence of the Lambs, while lacking the sly black humour at which real Russians excel.

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 http://www.donna-mcmahon.com/.


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