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Thunder Rift
Matthew Farrell
HarperCollins EOS, 400 pages

Gregory Bridges
Thunder Rift
Matthew Farrell
Matthew Farrell lives in Cinncinati and has a continuing interest in aikido. Thunder Rift is his first published novel.

Matthew Farrell Website
ISFDB Bibliography

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Hank Luttrell

This story begins with the arrival of "Thunder," a bright flash of light in the sky and a cascade of electromagnetic energy that wipes away much of modern technology. Thunder turns out to be a wormhole which has appeared in the solar system near Jupiter.

This causes enormous worldwide difficulty, chaos of all sorts, but the story focuses on one family. Young Taria's parents loose their jobs in New Zealand and decide to temporarily move to China where whey are at least offered minimal positions. Without giving away any specific details, the family's experience in China is tragic, and leaves Taria with deep emotional scars.

Since humans always tend to assume they are the centre of the universe, the theory about the wormhole is that since it seems to be a doorway, it must have been placed there either for us to use, or perhaps to facilitate an invasion of Earth. Whichever it is, Earth must mount an exploratory mission. Taria, now an adult, has focused her education to be part of this effort as an "Exoanthropologist."

What they find on the other side of the wormhole gateway is never what they expect. There is no sign of any civilization advanced enough to create the phenomenon. A primitive culture is found, normally a discovery of profound importance, but in this context just not what they had hoped to find.

The human team has considerable difficulty understanding the nature of the alien sexual roles and dimorphism. Another of the defining characteristics of the aliens is that they don't see very well, so rely much more on touch and especially on hearing. Farrell, with a background in music, is able to make this credible and interesting.

Despite sophisticated and accurate computer-assisted language translation, the human team never misses a chance to misunderstand the alien culture. Taria serves as point for the human efforts to study the aliens. Her personality and life experiences, shaped by her family's tragedy, resonate with her observations of the alien culture. The human exploratory team is unable to avert what seems to be a catastrophe. Even this is not what it seems, and the real purpose of the gateway, and the actual nature of the alien civilization, is revealed.

An interesting postscript for long-time science fiction readers and those interested in the history of SF publishing:
Matt Farrell has created a character he named Bea Mahaffey. A minor character, mostly, but also the first human to fly through the wormhole. Readers and collectors with memories back into the 50s will recall that this was the name of an innovative, charming and charismatic science fiction magazine editor. I'm only 53, so I wouldn't be quite old enough to remember her work, except that in the 60s I was an avid collector and reader of old science fiction magazines. Bea Mahaffey (1926-1987) worked on magazines published by Ray Palmer, such as Other Worlds and Universe. Palmer was a pioneering SF fan, publisher and editor, but eventually fell out of favour with many science fiction fans because of his association with crackpot stuff like flying saucers and The Shaver Mystery. Nonetheless, Bea Mahaffey was a fine editor and encouraged many young writers.

The use of Mahaffey's name seemed to me like it had to be more than a coincidence. I suspected that Farrell was too young to remember Mahaffey's career, so I wondered how he had come to use the name. He tells me that, in fact, he hadn't known much about her career, but had actually known her as a friend during some of the last years of her life, and that she had offered him important support. So Matthew Farrell is yet another young writer helped along the way by Bea Mahaffey.

Copyright © 2001 Hank Luttrell

Hank Luttrell has reviewed science fiction for newspapers, magazines and web sites. He was nominated for the Best Fanzine Hugo Award and is currently a bookseller in Madison, Wisconsin.

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