The Wayward Astronomer, by Geoffrey Thomas – book review by Fred Patten.

by Patch O'Furr

Submitted by Fred Patten, Furry’s favorite historian and reviewer.

The Wayward Astronomer, by Geoffrey Thomas. Illustrated, map by David Lillie.
Midland, TX, Corvus Publishing, May 2017, hardcover $24.99 ([ix +] 309 pages).

Wow! Geoffrey Thomas wrote this as fan fiction in David & Liz Lillie’s Dreamkeepers universe, set about a year before the Lillies’ Dreamkeepers serial, and got Lillie’s permission to publish it as a novel. Lillie even agreed to illustrate it. Thomas wanted to make it a particularly handsome book, so he started a Kickstarter campaign to raise $18,000 for its publication. He got 484 backers and $32,309. The Wayward Astronomer is a Beautiful Book, with each of 25 chapters getting a full-page illustration and a chapter heading picture by Lillie.

The Dreamworld is inhabited by funny animals. Each character also has a special psionic power. The largest city in the Dreamworld is Anduruna, but its repressive government has made use of special powers illegal.

(This is somewhat different from rules of the Lillies’ Dreamkeepers visual series. In that, the Dreamworld is inhabited by an equal number of people as our world, which currently is estimated at seven billion people; and each character looks different. He or she also has a special power. With over seven billion inhabitants, that’s a tremendous number of physical and psionic differences. David Lillie can show the variety in his art, but in this text novel, it would keep stopping the action to describe in words how each character looks different from everybody else. So the cast of The Wayward Astronomer is mostly just funny animals; an anthropomorphic raccoon here, a wolf there, or an owl or rhinoceros or jackal or another well-known animal. As for the restriction against using special powers, that has a plot purpose but it’s also to keep from having to write dozens of special powers into the story.)

(Something that is unexplained in either this novel or the regular series is what other cities besides Anduruna are in the Dreamworld; and how far beyond the Anduruna city limits its laws extend. The Wayward Astronomer begins at a small observatory in the Starfall Mountains, shown on the map as far outside of Anduruna; but apparently still subject to Anduruna’s laws.)

The protagonist is Halcyon (Hal) Adhil, who is not a standard funny animal:

“Hal was a feathered reptile; a raptor. Neither dinosaur nor bird, he found himself on the terminus between two eras of evolution. His scaly skin was colored a dark jet black, save for patches of green around his eyes and along his limbs.   A crown of gray feathers atop his predator-shaped head buffeted and billowed in the blustery air.” (p. 1)

Hal also has a long tail with an unintelligent four-eyed head on the end. (You can see why Thomas doesn’t want to describe each character in such detail.)

Hal Adhil – Artwork by David Lillie

Hal has taken such an isolated position (the observatory belongs to Calypsa District University in Anduruna) so that he can use his special power in secrecy. He can see in all ranges of the electromagnetic spectrum. When he uses it, a shimmery halo appears over his head that anyone can see.

Miriel (Miri) Rodgers, a purple-&-gray fox from the University who knows his power, is visiting him when they see a meteorite fall nearby. They trek to it, and are examining it when armed strangers attack them. Miri is kidnapped, and Hal is shot and left for dead. A farmer family nurses him back to health, and he returns to Anduruna two months later to find Miri and learn what’s going on.

Miri Rodgers – Artwork by David Lillie

To describe the plot in any more detail would give away too many spoilers. It’s basically a noirish detective story, with Hal despondent and depressed, and with everybody against him; but never giving up. Hal’s gunshot drove splinters of the meteorite into him that, when he uses his power, give him enhanced but crazy senses that may be killing him:

“‘Why is his breath so foggy?’ asked Vanir’s gravity. He tasted her eager curiosity. Miri’s heartbeat moved closer to him.

‘Is he extracting energy from the air around him?’ Miri smelled like uncertainty. ‘That doesn’t seem physically possible.’

‘This is more than I remember last time.’ Hal’s tail looked up at the ceiling, tasting the air. He continued to pace around the punching bag that served as the center of his accelerating orbit. ‘I need new words.’

‘Hal, slow down.’ Miri paced alongside him, alarm sharpening her sound. Heat shaped like a hand grabbed his wrist, pressing firmly against a throbbing vein. ‘Spirits! Hal, you need to stop. Your heart rate is insane.’

The words fell on the floor, unacknowledged. He kicked them aside to clear a path. The sound of static filled his brain, like sand pouring from a broken hourglass. The weight of the flow came from somewhere up above. He turned towards the white noise, the volume increasing as he homed in on the source. Somewhere, out beyond the invisible walls of stone and life, there it was.” (pgs. 138-139)

In a sense, The Wayward Astronomer’s being a text novel does it a disservice. I’ve called the characters funny animals rather than anthropomorphic animals because, despite being called talking zebras and panthers and bears, without constant illustrations it’s hard to envision them as anything but people. They’re all human sized. They all eat human foods, ride in human vehicles, and so on.

But if you don’t mind this, this is an exciting novel, especially for fans of the Dreamkeepers graphic novel. There is additional information here about the city of Anduruna, too. Don’t miss it.

– Fred Patten

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