Fantastic Reviews - Science Fiction Book Review
Forge of Heaven book cover Forge of Heaven by C.J. Cherryh

Eos Books hardcover - copyright 2004
416 pages
Cover art by Bob Eggleton (left)

Book reviewed March 2005
Rating: 4/10  (Not Recommended, But Not Bad)

Review by Gary Romero

          What would a cold-war be like in the far-future?  C.J. Cherryh's answer is Forge of Heaven, the second book in her Gene Wars series.  Forge of Heaven picks up just a couple centuries after Hammerfall and is more of a political intrigue story rather than the adventure/discovery based story of Hammerfall, the first book in the Gene Wars setting.

An uneasy truce maintains peace throughout human territory.  On the space station Concord, three government factions, two human and one alien, watch the planet below as it recovers from an attack by the alien Ondat faction centuries before.  Life on Concord is a mix of cultures from both the conservative Federation of Earth and the Outsiders, liberal humans from the outer colonies of human territory.  The Ondat, preferring to stay in their own quarters, rarely venture out onto the station to gather odd items from the human population.

On the planet's surface, a small number of human survivors from local tribes and the nanotech bio-terrorist group The First Movement work together.  Having survived the Ondat's planet shattering attack, they move around the surface helping nurse along the planet's limited life forms and aid the space station Concord in studying the planet as it re-builds itself.  None can leave the planet for the three factions fear letting loose The First Movement's life-extending nanocele technology onto the rest of the galaxy.

Marak, one of the few immortal survivors, is a native tribesman of the planet.  Having helped the First Movement's dangerously intelligent leader, Ila, previously his sworn enemy, they now work hand in hand on the rebirth of the planet.  Marak travels to an area due to experience major geological change.  Marak is to set up relay equipment for the Outsider's Watchers (also known as Taps) aboard Concord station to view this change.

Studying the planet reform itself is all that keeps peace between the Federation of Earth and the Outsiders.  The Ondat's interest is strangely focused on Marak and his actions upon the planets surface.

The unexpected arrival of earth Ambassador Andreas Gide, on an armed spaceship, makes the Earth Governor, Setha Reaux, nervous.  Why the expenses of an unscheduled Ambassadorial visit to Concord?  Once aboard the station, Ambassador Gide demands to see Marak's newest and youngest Watcher, Procyon.  The Outside leader Brazis complies, even though the earth ambassador has no jurisdiction of him or his Watchers.

Ambassador Gide accuses Procyon of bringing dangerous and prohibited First Movement technology aboard the space station from the planet, which could end the truce between factions.  Procyon truthfully denies ever aiding the First Movement.  When Procyon tries to leave, both he and Ambassador Gide are injured in an explosion which puts Ambassador Gide in the hospital and sets an injured Procyon on an incomprehensible quest for safety.

When Marak finds out that Procyon has been attacked he becomes furious.  He demands that Brazis return his Watcher to his post.  The land that he was sent to survey has begun its change earlier than expected and is threatened with earthquakes and bad weather stretching his two remaining Watchers to the limits of their abilities trying to cover for the missing Procyon.

Procyon, his mind jumbled from the attack, wanders the space station.  Cleaning robots drag him into Concord's maintenance tunnels where he meets Kekellen, the alien Ondat assigned to the space station.  Kekellen puts a mark of protection upon him.  Procyon remembers only small bits of his extremely rare meeting with an alien Ondat.

Earth Governor Reaux uncovers a conspiracy involving Ambassador Gide.  Outside leader Brazis learns there is indeed dangerous First Movement nanotechnology being secretly removed from Marak's world.  Both human factions ask the Ondat, Kekellen, to step in and help keep the truce between factions from failing.

Thoughts:

The first thing I noticed about the book was the prose.  Now most people will say "DUH!", but for me to notice the prose instead of the story, never bodes well.  Cherryh writes an interesting story, in a complex world, but her use of extremely long sentences can be incredibly difficult to read.

As you get into the story, a number of unique characters are introduced.  They start off well rounded and get the reader involved in the story.  Procyon, for example, is a strong willed and an incredibly smart character.  However, as the book continues on and the reader approaches the climax, all the characters start to blur and lose their uniqueness.  Procyon, for example, wanders the streets like an idiot for pages on end.  What happened to the smart Procyon I was introduced to in the beginning? And why don't we ever get to really meet an Ondat?

The story itself, one of political intrigue and sabotage, is set up well.  Cherryh has created an intriguing future.  However, Cherryh fails to explain how the people investigating the attack figure it all out.  Characters are lost, characters are found, and people who aren't even introduced to the reader die having huge impacts upon the story.  The Ondat, Kekellen, helps protect the current political structure, before he is even asked to.  She wastes too many pages on sub-stories that didn't have anything to do with the plot.  Marak's trek through the wild and the Governor's daughter running away have nothing to do with the story.  So many complications added onto an already over complicated story.  It's mayhem on paper!

          C.J. Cherryh has written 40-plus science fiction and fantasy books and has won several awards including three Hugo awards.  She has created a book of political intrigue with interesting characters but fails to put it all together in the end.  She tried to add too much too late, confusing the ending immensely.  Cherryh may be able to create worlds and futures with the simplest command of her fingers.  However, in Forge of Heaven, I think the story got away from her.
What do you think? Comments are welcome!
Please send them to:
Gary.Romero@gmail.com
Copyright 2005 Gary Romero

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