In his last column ever… for 2020… Steve talks about two books by Jeffrey A. Carver, and hopes you all have a wonderful winter season.

Figure 1 – Jeffrey A. Carver

This is the end for me. Yep, I’m done here… until 2021, that is! Ha! Fooled you again! Every year for the last 7 years I’ve taken December and part of January off; I can’t imagine how those people who do a daily blog even do it. As it is, I have to spend the next month taking care of stuff I promised my wife I’d do years ago. So until I come back, you’ll find me in the basement, emptying bins of “stuff.” I have stuff going back practically to my childhood… and I’ve been moving it since childhood, I think. So that means this is my last column for 2020 ’cos I’ve got to get some of it, at least, out of the basement.

Figure 2 – Reefs of Time Cover – by Chris Howard

A couple of months ago I was asked to review a couple of books by Jeffrey A. Carver, and I agreed. However, when I finished the reviews I was doing and sat down to read these two books, I was kind of taken aback. First, I’ve not read a book by Mr. Carver since (probably his first) I got his Laser book Seas of Ernathe, in 1976. Now, Laser books were not always the best SF available; they were an offshoot of Harlequin books from Don Mills, Ontario. And they were edited by Roger Elwood, who practically killed the anthology market back in the ‘70s by editing too many of them. I don’t think he was a bad editor, but he was awfully ambitious. I only dealt with him personally once, and he seemed like an okay guy. But the Lasers—which all, incidentally, had covers by my good friend Kelly Freas—could be terribly good (Blake’s Progress/Tiger, Tiger! by Ray Faraday Nelson, or Invasion by Aaron Wolfe—a Dean R. Koontz pseudonym) or just terrible (I won’t name names here), or okay (I, Aleppo, by my friend Jerry Sohl). So I’d read one book, but that was so long ago I didn’t know what to expect. And I deliberately didn’t Google Carver so I could be pleasantly surprised… I hoped.

Figure 3 – Crucible of Time Cover by Chris Howard

And another thing: these books, though a sort-of self-contained pair (the Out of Time Sequence) were still books number five and six of a larger work, called The Chaos Chronicles. How lost was I going to be coming in at Book Five? But hey, I promised, so I opened The Reefs of Time. Not bad, there are several pages of what could have been a data dump, but is a well-written précis of the previous 4 books, and it introduces me to the various characters who I will be following in these two books (which are basically one book divided into two… you know how publishing works). So here I’m meeting for the first time these protagonists: John Bandicut, human; Antares, a beautiful female but not human; Ik, an alien from a destroyed world; Napoleon, a robot/AI; Copernicus, another ‘bot; Charli—a “quarx” who lives in Bandicut’s mind or brain; Li-Jared, another alien from a planet called Karellia; Deep and Dark, two cloud-like entities, Jeaves, a robot/AI; Julie Stone and John’s niece, Dakota Bandicut… and so on. That’s quite a cast, spread across the two books, and there are more you meet on the way. All these different entities are linked in some way; some by friendship—after various near-disastrous adventures—and some by what are called “translator stones,” some kind of sentient gem that embeds itself by pairs in various of the protagonists.

References are made both in the prologue/précis and the text itself to various things that the protagonists have gone through: Bandicut himself had to steal a starship and crash it into a comet that would have destroyed Earth; they are all fighting against some machine intelligences called the Mindaru, which has the goal of destroying all organic life in the universe, not just our galaxy. Somewhere in the middle of this the first book ended and I found myself reading The Crucible of Time. And where it all gets really exciting is that Bandicut has been exiled from Earth not only because of stealing the ship, but also because of time dilation. And there is something called the starstream that is used by various civilizations to travel faster than light between worlds, and which John and his various cohorts have to use to go billions of years into the past in an attempt to cut the Mindaru off before they really get started.

All this explanation I’ve given you is incomplete, but there’s also the human and alien factors that come into play. Part of Bandicut’s group is—because of politics (not human politics, but galactic politics)—working at cross-purposes with others of the group. There’s a librarian called “Amaduse” (not human) who’s trying to help in the fight. There are personal and political factors both bringing our groups together and driving them apart… it’s amazing. And I haven’t even mentioned Shipworld, a giant habitat near the edge of our galaxy that is home to thousands of different species of people, many of whom have either lost their worlds or been driven from them. (And there’s a tiny nod to Terry Pratchett here too, I think.) There are giant, and brilliant, concepts in these books.

I won’t tell you how it all works out; if you haven’t read it you’re in for a whale of a ride! I, personally, will have to pick up more of Jeffrey Carver—not just this series—because I’ve become a fan of his world/galaxy-spanning imagination! I highly recommend these books.
Oh, also, I have to say that as a half-Australian, the name “Bandicut” keeps triggering me a bit; from childhood, because there’s an Australian animal called a “Bandicoot,” and that’s what I keep seeing in my mind’s eye. But that’s just me.

So that does it for my 2020 columns; in a few weeks we’ll all be done—thank goodness!—with 2020 itself. It’s been a pretty bad year for Planet Earth, with hurricanes, fires, a worldwide pandemic, and various and sundry other problems. But we’re entering the time of year where most people and many religions find peace and hope. For Christians (and those of us who were raised that way) it’s the Christmas season, and whether you’re a believer or not, the message of this season is hope, and forgiveness, joy, and love. For those of the Jewish faith, there’s Hanukkah, with the same sorts of message. For people of African descent there’s Kwanzaa in the United States (and yes, some now celebrate Festivus… “for the rest of us”). And almost everyone everywhere has some kind of New Year celebration.

The new year will bring a renewal, with a possible vaccine for the Covid-19 virus, and the plants and animals will celebrate the coming of spring by blooming and reproducing. The wild part of the Earth will continue to roll on regardless of our concerns, as long as we do our part to be guardians and conservators of the only planet we can live on so far.

So I’d like to wish each and every one of you a wonderful winter, whether it’s cold where you are, or hot, or rainy; whether you celebrate any festival named above or a different one; whether you’re young or old, SF or fantasy, Star Wars or Star Trek. We’re all one family in the end, and sooner or later we’ll grow up and act like it. Be safe, be happy, and I’ll see you sometime in January!

Comments are welcome. Comment here or on Facebook, or even by email (stevefah at hotmail dot com). All your comments are welcome! (Just keep it polite, okay?) My opinion is, as always, my own, and doesn’t necessarily reflect the views of Amazing Stories or its owner, editor, publisher or other columnists. See you in 2021!

Editor’s Note:  John Brunner wrote a (IMHO very excellent) novel titled The Crucible of Time, varying from the Carver title only by the addition of “the”.

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