Reviews Logo
SearchHomeContents PageSite Map
A Small and Remarkable Life
Nick DiChario
Robert J. Sawyer Books, 208 pages

A Small and Remarkable Life
Nick DiChario
Nick DiChario is part owner of a small, independent bookstore, The Write Book and Gift Shop, located in Honeoye Falls, NY. His short fiction has appeared in science fiction, fantasy, mystery, and mainstream publications in the United States and abroad, and his work has been reprinted in The Year's Best Science Fiction, The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror, and The Best Alternate History Stories of the 20th Century, among many others. Nick has been nominated for the John W. Campbell Award, the World Fantasy Award, and two Hugo Awards. In addition to writing stories, he is the fiction editor of HazMat Literary Review, a magazine dedicated to printing new voices and politically aware poetry and prose.

Nick DiChario Website
ISFDB Bibliography

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Steven H Silver

When you describe a novel as a First Contact novel, the images that leap to mind are of spaceships and strange planets and aliens. Those images are about as far as possible from Nick DiChario's first contact novel, and first novel, A Small and Remarkable Life.

Set in rural New York in the 1860s (with flashbacks), the novel tells the story of Tink Puddah's life and death. Mirroring Tink's life is the character of Jacob Piersol, the preacher in Skanoh Valley. Following in his father's footsteps, Jacob is constantly trying to prove himself his father's equal and sees Tink's failure to accept Christianity as one of his major failings.

What Jacob doesn't know is that Tink, whom everyone in town refers to as a foreigner, is, in fact an alien. His blue-tinted skin doesn't give the fact away to anyone who simply accepts it as a sign of his foreignness in a society on the brink of a Civil War fought, in part, over issues of race. Nevertheless, this aspect of the story works well and doesn't intrude.

The novel really tells two inter-related stories. One is the story of the coming of age of Tink Puddah. It is told mostly in flashbacks showing Tink's birth as his parents were killed by a bear hunter who then raised Tink. The other tale is the story of Jacob Piersol's coming to terms with his own abilities and failures. The portion of the book dealing with Piersol is more interesting, with its themes of repentance and redemption. Part of the strength of Piersol's story is his lack of success in so many different ways. Piersol's story, however, wouldn't be nearly as effective without having Tink's tale as comparison.

Piersol's main concern throughout the novel is how people will view him and how his actions might be able to sway their opinions in seeing him as a pious and holy man. Tink, on the other hand, simply acts out of concern for the people around him, and thereby reaches those whom Piersol always sees as standoffish. Piersol's eventual realization that his flock is strange to him is a sad, but not surprising revelation to the reader. As the preacher has a relatively negative portrayal, it would be easy to extrapolate that negativity to religion as a whole, but DiChario doesn't fall into that trap, remaining respectful of religion throughout, and Piersol's weaknesses adhere only to him.

DiChario has been publishing short fiction for more than a decade, but A Small and Remarkable Life is his first novel. The novel demonstrates the same care and intelligence evident in his shorter fiction. It also shows strong influences of Karen Joy Fowler's Sarah Canary, a similar first contact novel set in the nineteenth century, as well as Orson Scott Card's Alvin Maker series and Robert A. Heinlein's A Stranger in a Strange Land. Even when his book calls these stories to mind, however, DiChario's novel is unique in its portrayal of its characters, first contact, and religion.

With any luck, DiChario won't wait another thirteen years before unleashing another novel on the world. If it takes him that long to write as thoughtful, interesting, and well written a novel as A Small and Remarkable Life, he may be forgiven, but I'd rather he demonstrate the ability to write novels like this with more rapidity.

Copyright © 2006 Steven H Silver

Steven H Silver is a five-time Hugo Nominee for Best Fan Writer and the editor of the anthologies Wondrous Beginnings, Magical Beginnings, and Horrible Beginnings. He is the publisher of ISFiC Press. In addition to maintaining several bibliographies and the Harry Turtledove website, Steven is heavily involved in convention running and publishes the fanzine Argentus.

SearchContents PageSite MapContact UsCopyright

If you find any errors, typos or other stuff worth mentioning, please send it to
Copyright © 1996-2014 SF Site All Rights Reserved Worldwide