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The Astonished Eye

Tracy Knight

PS Publishing Novel

UK Hardcover First

ISBN 1-902880-24-2

192 Pages; $55.00/£35

Date Reviewed: 03-21-02

Reviewed by: Rick Kleffel © 2002



Science Fiction, Fantasy

03-21-02, 12-13-02

Science fiction often tends to revolve around some pretty dire events. There are any number of "end of the [fill in the bank]" stories and novels out there. If there's a future to be had, it's probably bad. Now in general, it's difficult to write a novel with a positive outlook. Many have tried, few will win. Outwardly, Tracy Knight's 'The Astonished Eye' is like many science fiction novels, rather grim. But Knight slowly and surely does something rather incredible. He infuses elements of grim science fiction and even horror into a rather sweet tale that thrills with weirdness and focuses on characters that the reader comes to love. Reading 'The Astonished Eye' is the best ticket to childhood memories of science fiction that you're going to find until Sherman gets the Wayback machine in order.

Knight begins his tale (!) when a flying saucer crash in Ben Savitch's hometown of Elderton, Illinois. Ben is on the last legs of a journalistic career that has taken him down to The Astonished Eye, a Weekly World News-style tabloid. He's finally returned home, after years of disgrace and bad luck to report on a story that could change his career. A real live UFO in his sweating hands could bring him back from the edge of the journalistic abyss that he inhabits. But once he gets in town, he find that the UFO pales in significance to the rest of the town. Elderton is a town that seems to have a surfeit of magic.

Knight lays out the territory so clearly, you see this novel with the same clarity you remember your first sci-fi movie. Then he populates the map with unforgettable characters. Almo Parrish can predict the first leaf to drop to the ground when fall begins. A little girl who is dead still walks the streets because nobody is impolite enough to tell her that she's passed on. Knight creates both scenes and people that are just a little off-kilter, some more, some less. Some miracles are happening here, but they're not world changing -- they're small change, affecting only small town Americans, but they're miracles nonetheless.

At times, Knight's writing is reminiscent of Bradbury, and other times like Dean Koontz. Not everything that happens in Elderton is pleasant and Savitch's arrival is the catalyst for some big changes. But for sheer Twilight Zone style weirdness and joy, Knight is in his own league. If the reader thinks they know where the novel is going it turns left, then right, then rises vertically.

Though Knight uses tropes from both dark SF and horror, the novel itself does not have a grim tone. It works for and gets a sense of wonder. It also gets extra bonus points for mentioning one of my favorite 'only wrote one novel but I still loved it' writers, Wayne Allen Sallee. If you look to science fiction for powerful lasers trained on trembling foes, godawful monsters, and high body count, you can safely give 'The Astonished Eye' a miss. But if the idea of finding your sense of wonder again appeals to you, then this book is well worth the price and trouble you'll have to take to find it.