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Bill Ransom

Ace Science Fiction

US Hard Cover

ISBN 0-441-00246-3

315 pages; $19.95

Reviewed by Rick Kleffel © 2001



Science Fiction

Some writers burst on the SF scene with a blast, their novels racking up sales and critical notice. Others sneak up slowly, until they have a body of writing behind them that is, in retrospect, quite exciting. 'Burn', Bill Ransom's third near-future thriller is the latest addition to what is turning out to be one of the better conceived and written recent SF series. Be warned: 'Burn' works so well as a stand-alone novel, you'll want to go back, buy and read his other two novels, 'Jaguar' and 'ViraVax' before you finish reading 'Burn'. But once you start, odds are you'll finish 'Burn' first.

Unlike most writers of of serial fiction, Ransom keeps his novels thin, taut and dialogue-driven. 'Burn' begins in Easter of 2015, in a world fragmented by a collision between the Catholic Church and the big-time start-up religion of the Gardners, a radical, high-tech fundamentalist Christian sect that has poisoned the world in the name of the Lord. In a facility called ViraVax, they've developed a complex viral infection intended to eradicate the world's population so they can begin anew in a Garden of Eden.

What distinguishes Ransom's vision, beyond his satiric takes on religions and politics, is his epsionage-novel style of expostion. 'Burn' is a tiny, precise universe, cleverly conceived, unreeled at break-neck pace with clear characters who have a past -- in previous novels -- a problematic present, and a future the reader wants to see through as much as the particpants.

'Burn' literally does start in the middle of a longer story, so the reader who hasn't read 'Jaguar' and 'Viravax' is at a large disadvantage. I had read 'ViraVax', which I found to be similarly dense but well-done, before reading 'Burn'. Ransom's world is complex, and his novels are so terse that there's not a lot of expanatory verbiage as to how the world functions is relation to the characters. But there is enough to draw the reader in, and once in, the tension and the clearly-drawn characters will keep the pages turning. By the end of 'Burn', the reader is so engrossed in Ransom's near-future that 'ViraVax' and 'Jaguar' will be welcome titles, even if they do take place in the future's past.