Dangerous Thoughts, by James L. Steele – Book Review by Fred Patten
by Pup Matthias
Submitted by Fred Patten, Furry’s favorite historian and reviewer.
Dangerous Thoughts, by James L. Steele.
Grove City, OH, KTM Publishing, June 2018, trade paperback, $15.00 (369 [+1] pages).
Dangerous Thoughts is Archeons, Book 1. The setting is so unusual that it needs to be quoted at length:
“A bubble in spacetime expanded from a single point at eye level. It grew wider and wider until it seemed to rest on the circle of stones off the pathway. The bubble wavered and puckered as it held open against the pressure of the surrounding spacetime trying to collapse it.
The opening caught the attention of several inhabitants of this world, and they approached it. On the other side they saw a planet none of them recognized immediately, of fiery volcanoes and two daytime stars in the sky, one red, the other white. Standing on this alien world were the two sentient beings who had opened this hole. The natives of this world instantly recognized them as Deka and Kylac, two Archeons from the planet Rel.
The Relians visible through the wavering sphere approached it. They grew larger, filled up the opening until finally they emerged from its surface. The first to step through was a theropod covered in blue scales so dark they were nearly black. A red stripe ran up the top of his snout and down his back to the tip of his tail. Immediately after his tail exited the portal, a bipedal canine with digitigrade legs and a slightly hunched posture followed. His belly was white, his forearms were black, and the tip of his tail was white as well. The rest of his body was covered in red fur. They stood side by side and observed the people as the unstable sphere closed behind them.” (pgs. 3-4)
The two Archeons, shown on the cover by ThemeFinland, are Deka, the theropod, and Kylac, the mammal. They have just recovered from an explosion that killed their fellow Relians and destroyed the portals, “leaving hundreds of planets without links to other worlds.” (blurb):
“‘The portals went out!’
‘Ricio told us she can’t make a way offworld anymore!’
‘She was unconscious for days!’
‘We could not reach anyone!’
Deka and Kylac had been among many species who had evolved in herds, and they never tired of their way of welcoming newcomers among them.
The crowd became larger. Movars both furred and furless poured out of the portal on the other side. Word had spread quickly of their arrival, and people from all over the planet came to greet them. Deka and Kylac knew they did not make this much of a fuss over every visitor, but the disaster had touched them as well, and they wanted to know what was happening.
Deka looked around. They had landed on a branch of a stone path designated for unannounced visitors. The branch connected with a larger path that reached for a hundred paces in both directions. Other paths split from this walkway and ended in circles of stone, dozens of them as far as he could see in both directions. Each would normally have held a portal to another world, or to another place on this world. Now he only saw six portals open, and they wavered and rippled, struggling to hold their spherical shape. Movars rushed out of these portals and joined the group around Deka and Kylac. Everyone wanted to touch them, talk to them, hear from them.” (p. 5)
Deka and Kylac had been offworld when Rel was destroyed and the portals collapsed. They were unconscious for days. The first five worlds that they travel to offer no clue to what happened. Movar, the sixth, presents the first clue in the form of dead Rel bodies:
“Kylac, Deka and Ricio stood facing a line of Relian bodies, some reptile, others canine. Swaths of scales and fur were missing. Huge streaks of flesh and bone gone, exposing organs underneath. Enormous holes had been torn through the bodies. Legs missing. Arms half severed. Faces gouged to the bone. Sometimes part of the bone itself was missing, as if it had melted away, leaving the remainder of the skull smooth and polished.” (p. 12)
What happened? That’s what Dangerous Thoughts is about:
“Deka woke up in the middle of the night. It was cold up here without the star to warm his scales, so he reached out and pulled his fox closer. It woke up the fox, and he tapped noses with his raptor. They met each other’s eyes. They had been together long enough to know they were thinking the same thing.
They had only been to five planets. They could not be the last of Rel, and they refused to accept the possibility. They would rest with a herd for a bit, and then they would make a way to a new world. Deka began the calculations.” (p. 13)
Deka and Kylac travel from planet to planet to find out. The inhabited worlds of the entire universe present a myriad of exotic species and spectacles. Warning: the universe is not human-centric. Do not expect human-type civilizations everywhere. Deka and Kylac are intelligent, but as ThemeFinland’s cover shows, the Relians do not have clothes. Neither do most species. Nor are they mammals:
“Birdlike creatures filled the sky, backlit by a tiny, green-hot star. They leaped from the trees, soared down, and landed on the tree stump, surrounding the Relians. The had bright plumage ranging in the blues and yellows and whites and greens. Especially green. Green on this planet was so vibrant it was painful to look at directly.
These birds stood upright about as tall as the theropod and the canine, wings unfolded and waving around, forming broad gestures accentuating their chirps and warbles. The raptor and the fox took a few moments to shed the Movar languages and recall this one. Deka had the easiest time speaking it, as his vocal chords were better suited to imitating their high-pitched chirps. Gradually the words became clear.
‘The portals disappeared!’
‘Is everyone all right?!’
‘What happened? Where is everyone?’
The birds continued to chirp and squawk and gesticulate. It was difficult to get a word in with these people. Kylac explained what they knew, which was very little. As the fox did, Deka turned around and peered over the edge of the platform. Just under the surface of the ocean, another group had gathered: the aquatic species of the Ixcian culture.” (pgs. 17-18)
This is only to page 18. There is a whole novel to describe the marvels of the universe. To give away a couple of minor spoilers, the disaster is not natural. Deka and Kylac visit Earth. This is only Book 1 of The Archeons.
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