At first glance, this little book that turned up on the (electronic) doorstep of Amazing Stories did not seem to fit the typical mold of those normally read by our followers. From the self-publishing service Matador, an imprint of Troubador Publishing TLD, comes the story The Alien Stone by Barry Uglow. Sure “Alien” stands out in the title, but this word can have many annotations and the cover illustration gives the Impression that it might have more of a foreign insinuation than an extraterrestrial content.
Gladly, I was wrong. This is not only a tale readers will be interested in, it is a prime example of the classic tales that subscribers of the original editions of Amazing Stories were familiar with. Comparable to Jules Verne’s epic “Around the World in Eighty Days,” the story takes the reader on a global adventure to strange and exotic locations.
After entrepreneur Edward Buchanan convinces his archeologist friend Professor Margrave and his ever resourceful assistant Jim Cross to help investigate strange markings he found on an ancient Central American stone landmark, the group sets off on a remarkable journey. With the help of American Civil War veteran Archie Scott, the trio is drawn into skirmishes of warring countries and survive many perilous predicaments as they dig deeper and deeper into the mysterious carvings.
The character choices are just like those from right out of the classics. Given their educational background and experience, the reader is often educated along the way without feeling as though a lesson is being taught. It’s as if we are meant to enjoy the ride and share in the discovery. Yet, when we are finally introduced to the alien figure Dr. Bonpland and his villainous plans of manipulating the outcome of the conflict in the area, the true horror of the journey comes to light.
The book begins with a vague sketch of a map, but the vivid prose and vast detail are more than enough to fill any gaps in our minds eye. If there might be one fault with this book, it would be that some chapters seemed to drag on a bit. But this happens rarely as most of the story moves smoothly. There is one scene involving rats that may even be too graphic for some, but it kept this reviewer clinging to every word as the tension built and was necessary to the plot. I might go back and read that part again just for fun.
It is also notable that we never get to look at any of the inscriptions or monoliths (referred to as steles) left behind by the alien species and central to the plot, but there are plenty of sketched illustrations by Christopher Cole to help solidify the culture and timelines of the characters and give the book the look of classic pulp science fiction.
Set in in the 19th century shortly after the end of the Civil War, Uglow shows an astute attention to historical detail including a slew of well documented people, places and events. Had the real Paraguayan captain Pedro Ignacio Mesa lived a bit longer, there is little doubt that he surely would have played a similarly important role, just as he did in this tale.
Billed as part of “The Adventures of Professor Margrave,” The book The Alien Stone has the assured appearance of the first installment of many more adventures to come from author Barry Uglow. If Professor Moriarty joins the cast, then the next installment should live up to this first one.