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A Step Beyond
C.K. Anderson
iPublish, 345 pages

A Step Beyond
C.K. Anderson
C.K. Anderson was born 1957 in Madison, Wisconsin. He spent much of his youth overseas and has lived in the Congo, Korea, and Belgium. Since graduating from the University of Virginia with a degree in philosophy, he has been employed at a hight-tech consulting firm. He currently resides in Leesburg, Virginia, with his wife and two children.

C.K. Anderson Website
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Past Feature Reviews
A review by Greg L. Johnson

When is a science fiction novel not really a science fiction novel? How about when it's set so close to our own time and so much within our present knowledge that it reads like a story which, with very few changes, could be taking place today. C.K. Anderson's first novel, A Step Beyond, is such a book. A story about the first manned expedition to Mars, A Step Beyond is so rigorous in its depiction of the reality of our current spaceflight capabilities that it becomes both more and less than a typical science fiction novel, more in its realism, but less in its evocation of the wonder of the future.

The strengths of the novel are apparent early. The first chapter recounts a deadly accident on a Russian space mission. This is where the realism helps the book. Anderson brings home the dangers of space travel, and the resulting tension carries over into the Mars expedition that is the main focus of the book. Anderson is also very good at setting up the characters in the crew, Russian and American, and the personal tensions that will play an important part in the story. The combination of physical dangers and personality conflicts carry the story from its beginning to its end.

The problems with A Step Beyond become noticeable as the novel goes on. The plot unfolds the same way as the journey, in a straight-forward point A to point B process. As space-flight, this is obviously the way such a journey would go, but as fiction, the narrative holds few surprises for the veteran reader. It's no surprise that problems develop during the voyage, on the landing, and on the take-off, but by telling the story in a manner that totally follows the physical aspects of the journey, the story loses some of the tension that it established in the first chapter.

The author tries to make up for this by focusing in on the problems of the crew. The characterizations are fine, a bit more than you would find in a typical thriller, but one thing stands out. One crew member is a woman, and Anderson cannot resist portraying most of the personal disputes as being the result of one woman in a crew otherwise entirely male. It's the easy way out.

In the end, A Step Beyond reads as the work of an author competent in prose, plot, and characterization, but not yet able to supply the kinds of twists, turns, and surprises that raise a book from being okay to being really good. There are simply no "Wow!" moments here for the science fiction fan. A Step Forward has its moments as a thriller, and for those who are looking for a novel of space flight in which the technology used is both accurately and realistically drawn, it will hold considerable interest. But as a science fiction novel, it is unfortunately mundane.

Copyright © 2002 Greg L. Johnson

Reviewer Greg L. Johnson lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota, a step beyond the more mundane city of St. Paul. His reviews also appear in The New York Review of Science Fiction.

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