Reviewed by Steven H Silver
While walking home from work one night, seventeen-year-old Tina Pulivok meets a tall stranger named Althor. Despite everything in her upbringing and background, Tina gets involved with Althor which leads her straight into the middle of a futuristic interstellar war. Tina, the main character of Catherine Asaro's second novel, Catch the LIghtning, is a poor Mayan girl living alone in Los Angeles. Orphaned by her mother's death, she was protected by her cousin Manuel until he was killed in gang fight a year earlier. Since that time, Tina has worked at a restaurant, been protected by Manuel's gang and tried to pursue her dream of attending college to receive a degree in accountancy.
Unfortunately, Tina's actions do not correspond to what Asaro tells us about the girl. Yes, Tina is very intelligent, but that can not account for her knowledge of space shuttle flight suit design. Similarly, she is able to understand phrases and concepts which should be utterly foreign to a lower class Mexican immigrant in Los Angeles. Asaro implies an explanation for these dichotomies when she has Althor tell Tina that Tina is an empath, but Asaro's explanation of Tina's abilities don't fully explain her ease with picking up so much information. This knowledge may be explained by the fact that Tina is relating what happened in the past and may have gained the necessary knowledge over the years, but it mostly comes across that Asaro, who holds a Ph.D. in chemical physics, is mistaking her knowledge for Tina's.
Other aspects of Asaro's world don't seem particularly realistic either. When Althor's ship is captured by the government, Tina enlists the aid of her college friend, Joshua and two of his classmates, Heather and Daniel, to help them break into a secure military base. The ease with which the students successfully infilitrate the base seems to indicate that Asaro has learned plotting from watching too many television shows.
Despite these drawbacks, Asaro does manage to create a complex relationship between the three interstellar societies which exist in the future Althor hails from. Despite the fact that Tina is the narrator of the events and obviously feels a tie to Althor's faction, Asaro manages to give the impression that none of the sides is entirely in the right and possibly Althor's faction is a little darker than first appearances would indicate.
The Machiavellian politics which exist in Asaro's future are complex enough to keep a reader's interest without being so labyrinthine that the reader is unable to keep track of what is occuring and who is one whose side at any given time.
Asaro also demonstrates the ability to turn a good phrase, mostly when she is describing the physical appearance of a scene. Similarly, Asaro's explanations of futuristic and scientific information are understandable within the context of the story. She assumes a certain knowledge of terminology which does not really need explanation if the reader is unfamiliar with her terms (or when they are invented).
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