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Timothy Zahn
Tor Books, 432 pages

Timothy Zahn
Timothy Zahn's SF career began by selling SF stories to Analog magazine while he was a physics grad student at the University of Illinois. When his thesis advisor died, he decided to write full-time. He started with hard SF, writing the Cobra series of military SF novels. In 1984, he won a Hugo for his novella "Cascade Point." His writing has a distinctly humanistic touch, so it seems obvious to some that Theodore Sturgeon was an early influence. Zahn is perhaps best-known as one of the original authors commissioned to write novels in the Star Wars realm.

ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: Icarus Hunt
SF Site Review: Star Wars: Specter of the Past
Timothy Zahn Interview
Another Timothy Zahn Interview

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Donna McMahon

Timothy Zahn, best known for his Star Wars books, can write a very competent shoot-em-up space opera. While Angelmass shows many of Zahn's strengths, it left me feeling that it simply wasn't as good a book as it could have been.

The plot of Angelmass focuses on Chandris, a 16-year-old street kid on the run, and Kosta, a twenty-something doctoral student who has been sent to the Seraph system by the warlike Pax government to spy on Angelmass, a peculiar black hole. For the last twenty years, people in the Seraph system have been harvesting "angels" (subatomic particles) from the hole and wearing them as necklaces. Allegedly, wearing an angel causes human beings to become good, ethical, and honest.

Kosta doesn't believe that angels are "particles of good" -- he thinks they may be a subtle alien invasion. But as he starts amassing evidence to support his view he is faced with a credibility problem -- who in the Empyreum is going to believe him when they discover that he's really a Pax spy?

In many ways Angelmass is a formula space opera, with much of the story hanging on coincidence and improbable plot points. For example, Chandris -- a street urchin -- is able to learn to pilot and repair a spacecraft in a couple of weeks. Another story thread involving a giant Pax warship, is much too obviously there to fill pages and mark time until the big climax. And the racing-the-clock plot wore thin for me well before the novel's end, in part because of a barrage of technobabble that reminded me of a Star Trek: Next Generation episode.

Still, Zahn has moments. Probably the strongest feature of this book is its ambiguity. It is not clear which empire is good or bad, who is right or wrong in their interpretation of "angels" and what exactly is best for society anyway. And hard SF fans are likely to enjoy the details about black holes and particle physics which seemed -- to this non-technical reader anyway -- to be credibly done.

Zahn also creates interesting and personable characters. These include Hanan and Ornina, a middle-aged brother and sister who operate a huntership, and Ronyon, a deaf and mildly retarded man who works as a political aide. Kosta, too, gets in some amusing moments as a nerdy academic who makes a very inept spy. Unfortunately, Zahn resolves most of his character problems before the end of the book, robbing the last few chapters of much potential punch.

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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