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Nightmare: A Novel of the Silent Empire
Steven Harper
Roc, 368 pages

Nightmare: A Novel of the Silent Empire
Steven Harper
Steven Harper was born in Saginaw, Michigan. Attending Central Michigan University, he received 2 Bachelor's degrees, one in German/speech and one in English/health education. Today, he teaches high school English and teen health.

Steven Harper Website
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SF Site Review: Dreamer

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Cindy Lynn Speer

Kendi Weaver and his family are captured by slavers. One by one, he sees the people he's loved all his life taken from him and sent to other worlds. The only thing that will eventually save him from the heart and soul-breaking life of slavery is his discovery of a power inside of him, one that allows him to travel in a dreamlike world and communicate with others of his kind. This power makes him much more valuable, and he is bought, and freed by the Children of Irfan, whose duty is to discover enslaved Silents and free them. He journeys with them to Bellerophon, a place that is not the ideal paradise he hoped for. A serial killer is stalking the Silent in their Dream state, and killing them, something that no one ought to be able to do. To end the nightmare, Kendi and his teacher Ara will have to venture into the victim's Dreams and recreate the events.

Somehow, the mixture of SF with the popular serial killer plot is incredibly alluring. As we run out of things to do in our own genres, we need to expand, borrow things from our neighbors and create unlikely combinations. Steven Harper does this in Nightmare, creating a solid universe where slavery is once more alive and thriving, and where the unique race of the Silent make their lives. I found the balance between the exploration of this new world through Kendi's eyes and the detective work effective.

What makes the Silent particularly nifty is the fact that any human or alien can be Silent. Therefore the Silent and their society is much more diverse than usual. Kendi, for example, is an Aboriginal human. The society of the Silent is somewhat intricate, sometimes a bit like a church organization with its Sisters and Father Adepts, sometimes like a medieval town with its walls and fortifications. The fact that Kendi is part Aborigine brings some aspects worth considering into the Silent ability to create a Dream world in their mind, for the Aborigines have something they call (and Kendi himself uses the expression) Dreamtime. I wonder if the ability of the Silent somehow came from this ancient earth ability, if the years from Earth some how evolved the ability into something different, and Kendi's own blood doesn't give him the possibility of being one of the most powerful Silents yet.

The only aspect that made me unhappy with the book is the slavery aspects. I'm not saying anything against Harper here, because it is well handled and necessary to the plot. I simply think it says some unfortunate things about mankind. True, the aliens are just as guilty as the humans in enslaving their own kind, but the fact that in 900 (or more) years, we've not only -- not -- advanced as a race, but gone backward into the most vile of crimes against humanity, gives the reader very little optimism for future generations.

Though Nightmare is the second of a series, it is completely stand-alone. The concepts that Harper puts forth are intriguing, and I became very involved with them, and the mystery aspects of the book.

Copyright © 2002 Cindy Lynn Speer

Cindy Lynn Speer loves books so much that she's designed most of her life around them, both as a librarian and a writer. Her books aren't due out anywhere soon, but she's trying. You can find her site at

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