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J.
William Sanders
iPublish.com, 336 pages

J.
William Sanders
William Sanders characterizes himself as "a 56-year-old redbone hillbilly who lives in Tahlequah, Oklahoma (yes, there really is a Tahlequah; Letterman didn't make it up), in a little old rock house, along with a hostile cat named Billie and his computer Gwendolyn, with which latter he has a very strange and not entirely healthy relationship." Some of his other books include Pockets of Resistance, The Hellbound Train and The Wild Blue and the Gray.

William Sanders Website
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: Smoke
SF Site Review: Journey to Fusang
SF Site Review: Are We Having Fun Yet?
SF Site Review: The Ballad of Billy Badass and the Rose of Turkestan

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Rich Horton

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One woman, once a NASA scientist working on a Mars mission, is trapped in a mental institution, desperately trying to find a reason or a cure for the terrible dreams that trouble her, and for the bouts of insanely violent feelings which possess her. Another woman faces a shootout with several men in an abandoned New Mexico town, decades after a nuclear war destroyed civilization -- and she too faces terrible dreams which have driven her lover away. A third woman has turned to drink, amid the ruins of her SF writing career and the ravages of her own terrible nightmares. Mysteriously, these three women, from three different worlds, find themselves together, facing dangers in each of their worlds, and facing even scarier threats from mysterious human-like but invulnerable beings who can chase them from world to world.

That's the setup for William Sanders' new novel, J., just out from the electronic/POD publishing imprint iPublish, a division of Time Warner. iPublish has been heavily promoting itself in a series of ads as an outlet for writers who can't find a publisher, in a way I find rather disturbing. But they have also published some work by established SF writers, and the work that I have seen has been very promising. (The SF editor is the fine SF writer Paul Witcover.) Examples include Gregory Feeley's novella "Spirit of the Place," a new novella/memoir from the World Fantasy Award-winning writer Richard Bowes: "My Life in Speculative Fiction," and this novel by Sanders. All iPublish books are available in electronic format, and many, including J., are also available as large format paperbacks -- certainly the latter is my preferred format.

Sanders has published a number of first rate novels in several genres: SF, fantasy, mystery, men's adventure. He's best known in SF for two alternate history novels from the late 80s (Journey to Fusang and The Wild Blue and the Gray) as well as his recent American Indian fantasy about nuclear waste disposal problems: The Ballad of Billy Badass and the Rose of Turkestan, which made SF Site's list of the best novels of 1999. He's also known for a number of outstanding recent short stories, including the Hugo and Nebula nominated novelette "The Undiscovered." He's never less than a crackling good adventure writer, and at his best he combines whipcrack action writing with a deadpan ironic sense of humour, fully rounded, "lived-in" characters, and real passion. J. is Sanders at close to the top of his form -- it's perhaps not quite as good as The Ballad of Billy Badass and the Rose of Turkestan, but that's a high standard -- and it is fast moving, intense, and fun to read. It's also as close to pure SF as Sanders has ever come at novel length.

The story follows the three women, who share the same name in different forms (Jay, Mad Jack, and Ann, all short for Jacqueline Ann Younger) as they cope with the realization that in some strange way they are the same woman, in three divergent time lines. Mad Jack's is the most distant from ours, and Sanders portrays her post-Apocalyptic anarchic New Mexico with brutal realism. We see only a little bit of Ann's world -- similar to ours with slight divergences that have led, for example, to a more advanced space program. And Jay's world, as far as we can tell, is our world. The main action opens with Ann threatened with rape by a brutal worker at the mental institution to which she has committed herself -- but suddenly she is rescued by the strange appearance of the heavily armed Mad Jack. Jack deals with the rapist in the manner which is second nature to her harsh way of life. But of course in Ann's world that's murder -- and while Ann and Jack clumsily try to escape the law, there really isn't any hope for them -- until somehow they find themselves in Mad Jack's version of Santa Fe. That provides only the briefest respite, however, especially when mysterious gray clad men show up, apparently ready to kill the women out of hand. But soon they find themselves, by what means they don't know, in yet another world, and they meet up with Jay. However, that's not a long-term solution to the problem of the gray men, to say nothing of their new short-term problems dealing with Jay's drinking, and with the unavoidable eventual problem of explaining the appearance of two extra women in a world with no place for them.

J. careens back and forth, the action never stopping, and always realistic (these women aren't invulnerable superheroes), as they struggle to escape their pursuers. Fortunately, they find a man who mysteriously has some idea of what might be happening -- and eventually they learn, to some extent, what's been going on -- and they even have a chance at finding a way that all three women can stay together. This novel features three involving and believable main characters, some fine SFnal speculation that is reminiscent of some of Poul Anderson's work, and some of H. Beam Piper's, and an always compelling plot. It's definitely worth a trip to the iPublish site to buy a copy -- or a trip to one of the online booksellers.

Copyright © 2001 Rich Horton

Rich Horton is an eclectic reader in and out of the SF and fantasy genres. He's been reading SF since before the Golden Age (that is, since before he was 13). Born in Naperville, IL, he lives and works (as a Software Engineer for the proverbial Major Aerospace Company) in St. Louis area and is a regular contributor to Tangent. Stop by his website at http://www.sff.net/people/richard.horton.


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