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empty cities of the full moon

Howard Hendrix

Ace Science Fiction / Penguin Putnam

US Hardcover First

ISBN 0-441-00844-5

442 Pages; $24.95

Date Reviewed: 03-19-02

Reviewed by: Rick Kleffel



Science Fiction


Science fiction writers have a lot of tools at hand. There are literally a million ways to go, a million things to write about, and a million ways to write about them -- if you're willing to leave out a lot. In 'empty cities of the full moon', Howard V. Hendrix manages to get a pretty Big Number of Big Ideas into a 442 page novel. He creates some compelling characters, and his spin on the many ideas he plays with is imaginative, interesting and well thought out. But 'empty cities of the moon' for all it's power, for all its creativity, for all the great thoughts and good characters, is still a bit too long.

In 'empty cities of the moon', an asteroid miner falls to earth, but not the earth he was born on. In the world he finds himself in, he was never born. Thirty years later, after a devastating plague, humanity has separated into Trufolk (human), Werfolk (shapeshifters) and Merfolk (genetically engineered creatures of the sea). The story line shifts between 2032-2033 and 2065, telling two parallel stories about how the plague was created and how the world it created will be changed once the cause is known. Hendrix does a fantastic job of setting up the world before and the world after, creating a nice tension as the reader wonders how one will transform into the other, and what will happen in the second once the secrets of the first are known.

The characters that Hendrix employs on his dual odysseys are part of both the appeal and the problems with the novel. On one hand, characters such as Mark Fornash, a techno-gadfly who professes to know nothing while studying everything (in the 2032 segments) is charismatic and entertaining as all get out. As the world around him slowly dissolves, he goes with the flow, carrying the reader into a spectacularly well rendered apocalypse. And of those left afterwards, Hendrix's shapeshifters really stand out, bringing together elements from supernatural horror novels into a convincingly rendered chaotic future. Hendrix is nothing if not bold and adventurous in his willingness to draw from many palettes. His unabashed enthusiasm at jumping from new-age speculations to the hardest of scientific reasoning serves him and the reader well. If you're thoughts need provoking, then you've come to the right man.

However, at times his pacing seems to fall behind his love of characters who are not so compelling to anything but the plot. There's a big-time scientist who seems uncomfortably close to someone out of a Tom Clancy novel, though he speaks with more authority and deals in ideas that are actually exciting. There are also some times when the author loves his world and his journey just a bit too much, and the readers are apt to feel that they're getting more of a guided tour than a thrilling ride. Since other parts of the novel fully qualify for 'thrilling ride/tide of ideas", those that don't exert an inevitable gravitic pull on the rest.

However, Hendrix is clearly writing for the long run here. One of the feelings I got while reading this book was that I was missing out on a lot of information from his previous novels. While not a series, per se, they're clearly and significantly connected. My main thought on reading this book was that I would have to go back and read the first three novels to really appreciate this one, and that I'd certainly read the next to see where he went. Hendrix has created a wide and versatile world to play in. If this tour is a bit long, it's still interesting enough to ensure that I'll be back for the next one.