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Thunder Rift
Matthew Farrell
HarperCollins EOS, 400 pages


Gregory Bridges
Thunder Rift
Matthew Farrell
Matthew Farrell lives in Cinncinati and has a continuing interest in aikido. Thunder Rift is his first published novel.

Matthew Farrell Website
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: Thunder Rift

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Donna McMahon

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When the "Thunder Rift" opened up near Jupiter, it sent out an electromagnetic pulse that wrecked every electronic device on Earth, slamming the planet backward a century in a few hours. Consequently, it took decades before Earth could launch a space mission to explore the rift and confirm suspicions that it was an interstellar gateway.

Taria Spears, an exo-anthropologist on this mission, is elated when they find an inhabited planet on the other side of the gateway. But her obsessive personality and abrasiveness have made her unpopular with both her scientific colleagues and the ship's military crew. Only because the "Blues" (aliens) choose Taria as an emissary to their planet, does the captain agree to send her down alone to do research. When things start going very wrong, all the human lives may rest in the hands of one selfish, unstable woman.

I found Thunder Rift interesting enough to finish, but I can't say that I enjoyed this book. I had three major problems with it -- a whining neurotic brat of a protagonist, a central 'mystery' that is much too obvious, and an uneasy blend of science and mystical woowoo.

Writing a fallible protagonist is one thing, but having a main character who is as convincingly disagreeable as Taria makes this a very difficult book for a reader to like. And if Matthew Farrell intended to make her grow or earn reader empathy as the story progressed, I certainly didn't notice any improvement. Taria is obsessed with the murder of her mother, which she witnesses at the age of five, but far from giving me any sympathy for her, I found myself wishing that the murderer had offed Taria while he was at it.

I also had problems with the flashbacks of the mother's murder, which were far too coherent and adult to be the memories of a five-year-old child. This hit a personal button with me, as I lost my own mother at an early age, and I went to the trouble of checking my reactions with two other friends who also lost their mothers when they were children. Although we were all strongly affected by our childhood traumas, we found Taria's memories and reactions implausible for reasons that far exceed the limits of a book review column, but which I would be happy to discuss over a glass of wine.

Anyway, in order to get his flaky and annoying protagonist onto a space mission, an alien planet and then into various situations, Farrell uses a lot of plot devices that stretched my credibility. But I stuck the book out because the writing is competent and there are lots of good bits. The best of these is the biology, language and culture of the Blues, which Farrell clearly put a lot of thought into.

In fact, Farrell put considerable thought and emotion into this book, and he made an ambitious attempt to weave complex themes and story elements together. Unfortunately, the novel doesn't work. Part of the problem is an accumulation of jarring details -- implausible plot points, predictable characters (the military ones particularly), and inevitable outcomes.

A more serious flaw is a lack of strong secondary characters. Taria has to carry the book herself, and since I swiftly grew to loathe her, I didn't care whether or not she came to terms with her inner pain. Finally, I am not a big fan of gurus, Yodas or god-like mystical aliens solving our problems for us in a deus ex machina.

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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