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Margaret Wander Bonanno
Tor Books, 352 pages

Margaret Wander Bonanno
Margaret Wander Bonanno is perhaps best known for her Star Trek writing. Her novels include Strangers from the Sky and Dwellers in the Crucible (1985). She wrote Saturn's Child (1995) with Nichelle Nichols.

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NY Times Review: Preternatural

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Peter D. Tillman

Karen Rohmer Guerreri is writing an SF novel -- working title, "Preternatural" -- by taking dictation from telepathic ET jellyfish in her head. "Talking jellyfish!" sneers her soon-to-be ex-husband Ray. "You'll never sell this!"

Ray's a jerk, but he's understandably upset -- he's been seeing jellyfish too. As have most of the characters in the book. It's not the sort of thing you talk about with family and friends...

More plot summary than this really isn't going to help -- think Wine of the Dreamers meets Philip K Dick, with all kinds of genre, literary and TV/cinematic references and in-jokes. In the world of Academic Lit, this is "self-referential deconstruction" and a Big Deal...

...but in plain language it's an astonishing juggling act. Round and round, up and down they go: autobiography, the writer's craft, how your kids grew up while you weren't looking, Trekkie fangirl turns pro, mid-list writer goes to SF conventions, Hollywood business deals ("trust me"), exposition by transposing characters to alternate timelines (!), crystal healing, bilingual puns (the aliens' Linnean name is S. oteri: sound it out & groan...), a Captain Kirk-ish actor who can't get it up and blames the jellyfish...

The jellyfish are a bit much at times (whine of the dreamers, heh heh), and the ending may be over-sweet (though perfectly-fitted to the cinematic subplot). Hey, nobody's perfect -- but Preternatural comes pretty darn close.

Margaret Wander Bonanno is the most prolific SF author I'd never heard of -- in the past 20 years, she's written seven Star Trek novels, seven other novels (some SF/F), and a biography of Angela Lansbury. I'd welcome steers to other worthwhile books of hers.

I have no idea why Preternatural has attracted so little attention. This is a remarkable book. Don't miss it. Trust me.

As an aside, non-geriatric readers may not be aware that John D. MacDonald, author of the wonderful Travis McGee mysteries, also wrote SF. Wine of the Dreamers (1951), probably his best SF, is a chilling paranoia-piece on ET Puppet Masters. It was reprinted in a 1980 omnibus, Time & Tomorrow, which also includes The Girl, the Gold Watch & Everything (1962), a very entertaining wish-fulfillment fantasy. Both are compulsively readable and well-worth looking for.

Copyright © 1999 by Peter D. Tillman

Pete Tillman has been reading SF for better than 40 years now. He reviews SF -- and other books -- for Usenet, "Under the Covers", Infinity-Plus, Dark Planet, and SF Site. He's a mineral exploration geologist based in Arizona. More of his reviews are posted at .

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