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Frontier Earth
Bruce Boxleitner
Ace Books, 322 pages

Frontier Earth
Bruce Boxleitner
Bruce Boxleitner appeared on Babylon 5 for 4 years and a handful of telemovies, as John Sheridan, second captain of the Babylon 5 station and first president of the Interstellar Alliance. His career started in Los Angeles in 1972 where he had 5 lines on an episode of The Mary Tyler Moore Show. As well as his continuing role in The Scarecrow and Mrs. King, he is known for his leading roles in Bring 'Em Back Alive and the mini-series Bare Essence. He also co-starred in the TV movies, East of Eden, The Last Convertible, Kiss Me, Kill Me, Fly Away, Happily Ever After and Passion Flower. His feature film credits include Tron and The Baltimore Bullet with James Coburn. Bruce Boxleitner married actress Melissa Gilbert in January 1995.

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A review by Don Bassingthwaite

That full bleed publicity shot on the back cover looks like it comes from Bruce Boxleitner's first season on Babylon 5, with the result that anyone who watched the show regularly will feel like they're caught in some kind of time warp. Boxleitner looks as fresh and tanned as a California baby, rather than the grizzled veteran that will stand out in most fans' minds. Maybe that's what Boxleitner really looks like out of make-up, but bad marketing decision, people -- that photo's not going to lend any credibility to the fan crowd. If you're going to play up the B5 angle, try to play it up right.

Can I take any other cheap shots at the cliché of actor-turned-author (aside from the fact that as far as I know he has no aspirations to a singing career)? No? Good, because once you get past the identity of the author, Frontier Earth is actually a pretty good book. Caught up in historical events of the American Old West and pursued by vicious alien hunters, a mysterious amnesiac named Macklin slowly comes to realize that he's from another planet. Hmmm... not exactly a super-innovative plot. Even the historical event that Macklin is caught up in isn't much of a surprise. As soon as a stagecoach headed for Tombstone and counting Doc Halliday among its passengers makes an appearance, you know the OK Corral can't be far away.

Obvious plot points aside, though, this is a solid, fun book. For one thing, the setting is great. There is a small spate of books and other media on the market that combine science-fiction/fantasy with the Old West, but not so many that there's overkill. SF/Western works very well as a crossover genre and I can't immediately think of another book that duplicates Boxleitner's approach of aliens and galactic emissaries (although if someone else can, let me know -- I wouldn't mind reading more). There's a lot of room to move and be creative, but because the Old West setting is so familiar, it's still very easy to get into the story. Most readers probably won't need much introduction to Doc Halliday, the Earps, and the rhythm of life in Tombstone, while the galactic background that brings Macklin to Earth holds hints of great promise for future developments.

The beginning of the book is a little choppy, with some rather blatant historical details dropped like anvils into the text, but the writing smooths out fairly quickly as you get caught up in what's going on. The vicious alien hunters -- and they are very alien and extremely vicious -- are on Macklin's tail from very early on. The tension as they close in is well handled and there are a couple of rather unexpected twists in the story arc. Historical events complement the story rather than dominating it, something that's very nice to see. The action motors right along, which does unfortunately mean that characters and dialogue are at times a little under-developed. Mostly this applies to the human villains, the Clanton gang, who tend to come off as cardboard cowboys without much to distinguish them from each other, but Macklin does have HERO stamped in big letters across his forehead. When the characters do fall down, though, it's not bad enough to break the flow of the book. This isn't an epic saga and I don't think it pretends to be. Put your mind in neutral and enjoy the adventure.

I'm not giving away too much by saying that there's a clear setup for a sequel. Even so, the action of Frontier Earth builds to a very satisfying climax and ends clean. Boxleitner obviously has plans to make this into a series. With any luck, those plans will continue to build on the foundation of this book -- there's a lot of potential here and with some practice and growth, a Frontier Earth series could blossom very nicely.

Why, it might even make -- dare I say it? -- a pretty decent television series.

Copyright © 2000 by Don Bassingthwaite

Don Bassingthwaite is the author of Such Pain (HarperPrism), Breathe Deeply (White Wolf), and Pomegranates Full and Fine (White Wolf), tie-in novels to White Wolf's World of Darkness role-playing games. He can't remember when he started reading science fiction, but has been gaming since high school (and, boy, is his dice arm tired!).

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