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James Alan Gardner
HarperCollins EOS Books, 382 pages

James Alan Gardner
James Alan Gardner's first novel, Expendable, was published in 1997. Commitment Hour followed in 1998. A Canadian author, Gardner has honed his skills publishing short works in Amazing, The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine, On-Spec, and the Tesseracts anthologies. He has won numerous writing awards, including Grand Prize winner of the Writers of the Future Award (1989), as well as an Aurora Award for best short story (1990). His latest accolade is a 1997 Nebula nomination.

James Alan Gardner Website
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: Hunted
SF Site Review: Commitment Hour
SF Site Review: Hunted
SF Site Review: Vigilant
SF Site Review: Commitment Hour
SF Site Review: Expendable
Excerpt from Commitment Hour
Excerpt from Expendable

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Donna McMahon

There must be more to life than this, thinks Philemon Abu Dhubhai, and his friends agree. Stuck in dead-end careers as teachers in a second rate sorcery school, they amuse themselves by drinking and brawling in local taverns -- that is, until someone assassinates a student and they are launched upon a Quest that will bring them up against criminal gangs, extraterrestrials, necromancers, biological warfare, and the amorous demands of Gretchen Kinnderboom.

Trapped is James Alan Gardner's latest adventure set in his strange post-apocalyptic future. In the twenty-first century, Earth was invaded by aliens and four centuries later the planet is ruled by the capricious and mysterious Spark Lords who allow a remnant population of humans to live under pre-Industrial conditions amid the ruins of ancient Old Tech. Further altering the landscape is the advent of "magical" powers actually made possible by sophisticated nanotechnology.

A set-up like this gives Gardner free reign to blend and satirize both SF and sword and sorcery -- a disparate mix of elements that does not always work well. The tone of the book is also uneven, veering from broad slapstick to violent action to philosophical musings. Bringing all of this together coherently would be quite a feat, and Gardner regrettably does not succeed.

Nevertheless, he come close at times, mostly due to his strong characters. I was drawn through Trapped by the charming, mildly inept Philemon, his romantic predicaments and his band of eccentric friends. Unfortunately, the very real humanity of these characters makes Gardner's slapstick feel contrived, and gives a grotesque edge to the rising bloody carnage. I also tired quickly of the plethora of Star-Wars-bar-scene aliens, such as the giant lobster butler.

Finally, the conclusion of this book -- a long, bloody battle at Niagara Falls punctuated with lectures about the meaning of life -- felt unconvincing and hastily patched together.

This is far from Gardner's best book. Some readers will find it an amusing romp through a bizarre future Earth; others will be disappointed.

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

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