Sunday, February 27, 2011

Wasteland of Flint

By Thomas Harlan

This story is set in the future of an alternate timeline, where the Japanese discovered the Americas and where the Aztecs are the rulers of known space. So the story is set in a future where humans have spread out from Earth to other planets. In their travels they have discovered the remains of past spacefaring civilizations. Gretchen Anderson, a xeno-archaeologist, is an expert at alien remains and she and her team are sent to a desolate, desert planet to investigate what has happened to a previous team that has been out of contact. They travel on a military ship to the planet because the Empire is worried about what dangers may be on the planet.
When the team arrives, they find the first team's spacecraft in orbit, empty and silent, with no sign of the crew. The ground team is OK, but terribly worried about their fellows on the spacecraft. Investigation reveals that an artifact uncovered on the planet and brought on board the spacecraft ignited and destroyed all the organic compounds on the ship, including the crew, their clothes, food, furnishing and even some of the cheaper components of the electronics. Anything inorganic was left untouched.
When this is realized, it is decreed that the planet is off limits by the Empire's man, Hummingbird, who is a kind of cross between the secret police and a witch doctor. He and Gretchen go down to the planet to destroy any traces of humankind on the planet and to retrieve one missing member of the first team who has flown off in an ultralight to do some surveys. And while they are doing that, the rest of Gretchen's crew will be getting the derelict spacecraft back in working order. The military ship will be tracking down and removing, without attracting any hostile attention from the desolate planet, a mining ship in a nearby asteroid belt.

First of all, why the people in this story have a different history than ours is never explained. Apparently the story is based on some video game or something created by the author in which this alternative history is all worked out. But coming into it without being familiar with this back story made for a rather confusing start. Secondly, a large part of the story is concerned with the military ship and its crew and its hunt for the mining ship, with descriptions of weapons and tactics and technology, that I just found completely boring and also felt that it added nothing to the main story. Thirdly, the whole Aztec empire stuff and all that mystical mumbo jumbo just did not appeal to me. I thought the Hummingbird character was a giant pain in the ass who should have been shoved out an airlock without a spacesuit.
The only part I really enjoyed was when Gretchen and her crew are figuring out what went wrong on the derelict spacecraft and when Gretchen is down on the planet helping Hummingbird with his investigation and tracking down the missing person and trying to understand the weird ecology of the devastated planet. That part was fascinating and kind of scary.
So I only enjoyed about a third of the story, the rest was confusing, unappealing or just plain uninteresting.

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