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The Tranquility Wars
Gentry Lee
Bantam Books, 627 pages


Gregory Bridges
The Tranquility Wars
Gentry Lee
Gentry Lee has been chief engineer on Project Galileo, director of science planning for NASA's Viking mission to Mars, and partner with Carl Sagan in the design, development, and implementation of the television series Cosmos. He is co-author of Rama II, The Garden of Rama, and Rama Revealed.

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A review by Donna McMahon

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It's difficult to explain why I got such a kick out of reading The Tranquility Wars, a moderately dreadful novel by Texas space scientist Gentry Lee. "Offers surprise after surprise" says The New York Times, and they're sure not kidding. If Commander Data from Star Trek wrote a novel, I'm sure he would produce something like this bizarre mix of perceptive detail and ridiculously stilted writing.

Hunter Blake, age 20, is a medic working on his home asteroid, Cicero. When Hunter wins the prestigious Covington Fellowship to study medicine on Mars, he is elated, and when he finds his gorgeous high school girlfriend, Tehani, booked on the same 20-day spaceflight, he's ecstatic.

But fate intervenes. Blake's space freighter is captured by pirates, and he is taken to work as a medic for the renegade asteroid colony, Utopia. As the weeks pass, Blake's loyalties become torn between the authoritarian government he grew up with and his new dope-smoking anarchist friends, and between the beautiful Tehani and his pretty clinic assistant, Ursula. Soon he must face wrenching personal choices.

I think the point at which I started giggling and reading out loud from this book was when emergency sirens went off on Cicero. Instead of an announcement like "Red Alert! You have 30 minutes to reach the emergency shelters!" Lee has the mayor of Cicero come on TV to deliver a half page speech containing sentences like: "The [attacking] spacecraft have also failed to follow the accepted interplanetary protocol of periodically broadcasting their identification information."

Like Commander Data, Lee's characters avoid using contractions and they all speak like college textbooks. Even the sex scenes have a terribly earnest flavour, for instance: "...as soon as Hunter started returning Tehani's kiss he was overpowered by lust. He put his arms around her and squeezed much too forcefully. She broke the kiss at the first available opportunity."

This is also a very dated book. From Hunter's parents (Ward and June Cleaver of the asteroid belt), to the pirates who live in a free love, drug-soaked commune, to the security guard who uses slang like "wise guy," this book screams of being written by somebody born in the 30s.

Nonetheless, I enjoyed it and here's why. First, it was funny, even if not intentionally. More important, it was sprinkled with wonderful little snippets, such as Hunter's experience sharing a freighter cabin with an obsessive compulsive roommate. Every once in a while a vivid piece of conversation or action would jump off the page -- clearly something the author had seen or done himself.

Finally, there was a pleasant aura to this book. Lee writes about sex and drugs and rock and roll like a genial, slightly bemused anthropologist, and he brings genuine enthusiasm to his musings about technology, government and society. This man can't write a convincing villain to save his life, but he sounds like somebody I'd very much like to meet at a party.

So, the characters are stilted (especially the women) and the plot is full of holes but what the heck, I recommend it. I've read a lot of better books that haven't left me with a smile on my face.

Copyright © 2001 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://members.home.net/mcmcahon-/.


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