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Planet Torn Asunder Paperback – November 16, 2006
About the Author
K. J. Wolf resides in the San Francisco Bay Area, California, where he writes and edits professionally. He received his BA in History and minored in English at California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo. After graduate work at the University
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
In a distant galaxy, a pair of bluish-white stars whirls slowly around each other, like two sisters in a perpetual dance. For binary stars, Nevron and Kelvron drift relatively far apart, their dance steady, serene, and almost unnoticed. An asteroid belt passes between them, sailing like the streamers of unseen gowns. And skirting each star, two sets of planets circle, their orbits forming halos around each twin. True, most of these orbiting spheres of stone, earth, and molten rock are uninhabitable. But a select few buzz with life, with a music quite unlike the waltz of the sister suns. One of these life-bearing planets, Zavenscikori--better known as Znski--rotates around the Nevron star. A warm world of vast oceans, great deserts, and lush forests, Znski bears many creatures. But by far its most advanced and most formidable is the Lizzardi race, a race technologically sophisticated, yet disparate. All Lizzardis find themselves separated not just by the gulf of oceans and continents, but by heritage, tradition, and age-old enmities. After centuries of ups and downs, two distinct spheres of influence have come to dominate Znski's many voices; the Voshiadda clan heads the western continents while the Clonce family rules the east. And these polar opposites act quite unlike the twin sisters dancing in the celestial heavens. Here on Znski there is no eternal harmony, no peaceful undulation. Only discord. And here the dancers move not with each other, but against.
Chapter One: The Menace
He smelled trouble. Or was it the scent of his sweat seeping between thick rugged scales? Or both? Regardless, too much tension. The old Alagor frowned, his long jawline furrowing at the corners. Could situations sour so quickly? Restless and uncomfortable, Caslimodi Voshiadda scooted his long scaly body atop the heated Soothe Stone, his short and stubby arms and legs vying for a new position. From head to tail, his body stretched over eighteen paw-feet. Faded yellow eyes gazed past three playful sons, into an unseen realm. Questions gnawed at him. Indeed, he had not felt this concerned since the days preceding the Great War of Velzar, nearly thirty hexints before. A whistle whined, and Caslimodi's pointed head jerked toward the doorway. A few heartbeats later, a curtain parted and a palace guard wriggled into the chamber on all fours. The guard spoke, his voice a blend of slurred hisses and clacks: "Sire, the Council of Elders is assembling. Your presence is requested at an emergency session." The old one nodded. Folds of scaly skin creased at the motion, yet his gaze held steady, unfazed. Meanwhile, three smaller Lizzardis ceased their play and waddled over to him. "What's wrong, father?" said the eldest, Staurbajianze. The three youths gazed up at Caslimodi, small eyes inquisitive. They looked upon him as the rest of the Western Alliance soon would . . . expressions bewildered, questioning, seeking reassurance. The old one said, "It's okay. Not to worry. We'll speak later, I promise." He paused, as if contemplating more. But was there anything else he could say to allay their fears without revealing his own discomfort? The guard intervened: "Sire?" Nodding, the old one turned from his sons--his eyes again distant--and then plodded out the doorway. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
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The book conveniently had a map of its own "universe" at the beginning. So as I dived into the story, I enjoyed being able to refer to the map and familiarize myself with this new universe, which I found a bit complex in the beginning. I was quite impressed by the creativity of the author, whose universe is initially limited to a planet, and as many of the characters flee this home planet, suddenly become limitless. The end of the book was very open-ended, and I for one would like to read more and get transported again. I will be following this author...
Planet Torn Asunder is about a war between the Eastern and Western nations of the denizens of planet Znski, the Lizzardi: lizards endowed with almost exclusively human qualities.
So why are we reading about lizards?
The answer is unclear.
The Eastern continent, ruled by the Clonce family, is in crisis. The worst drought in history is raging, and the ruler decides to negotiate peace with the ruling family of the West, the Voshiaddas. The Clonce prince, heir to the throne, feels this would deprive his nation of any autonomy and pride. So he kills his parents, frames the Voshiaddas, and starts a rebellion that leads to total war, forcing the Western Lizzardi to abandon their planet. What follows is an all-too-familiar story of lust for power, the grueling responsibilities of leadership, and several coming-of-age narratives. The book ends just after the final climax of the story so far, suggesting either a sequel or just a tale that feels incomplete. Unfortunately, "why" was a question that kept coming up in all the wrong places. As it turns out, Wolf has difficulty managing his universe, failing to make it credible or compelling.
The novel provides little in the way of justification. It is apparent that the East and West have cultural differences more or less congruous with America and the USSR in the Cold War, but there is no real history as to why they are in conflict. The planet has a guardian god, placed there by Time itself, but we are left in the dark as to what his purpose is and how he functions in relation to Lizzardi society. The absence of any religious structure (besides saying "may Boelijianie be with you") is an interesting choice, but needs explaining, as empirical evidence of a deity would make a real faith structure more probable. And when the god creates the sonta Boe, a Lizzardi endowed with magic powers to guide the whole race, why is this not a bigger deal for the rest of the lizards? What are we to make of the Huminids on the planet Solarzem? Does their name signify they are our ancestors? If so, why are they psychic? If not, why name them something that obvious? These are a small fraction of unanswered questions and loose ends left by Wolf in establishing his universe. It appears that in an effort to keep the narrative taut and to the plot, he has neglected almost all the exposition needed to make the reader understand his world.
He also fails to give the reader a reason to care about this universe, to find its characters identifiable, its society interesting, or its ideas worth thinking about. When seeing a book about a species of lizards at war, I requested a review copy expecting some analysis of conflict from a completely non-human source, à la Turtledove's novels with the Race (a species of lizards with a society vastly different from ours, which provides the components for an idea-rich plot). Instead, Wolf has crafted men in scales, a typical satirical route to show our flaws through a different skin. Even then, he has to account for issues like why the lizards have close relationships with their young and live as monogamous mammals. If they are so mammalian, either explain it or make them mammals. The character development is also too breezy. While he does a good job at mixing character building and plot, the main characters are too archetypical to be cared about. The coming-of-age stories are bland, and only brief fragments of personality are there for the rest of the cast. The result of this lack of ideas and banal storytelling is a skeleton novel with mismatched areas of meat. Fortunately, Wolf's plot does drive the story forward so it never feels stalled, but that is not enough to account for the emptiness of the narrative.
There is earnestness in the writing; it feels like a rough first draft to set the spine of the novel, awaiting the careful layering that comes with rewriting and editing. The good influences are also there: the people forced to flee its home is classic Battlestar Galactica, the mystical swords and guardian gods feel very The Lord of the Rings; they just need to be less obvious to allow the story to shine on its own. As a beach read it suffices--the action makes for passable television, and the story is not so ridiculous as to be rendered unreadable. But this is not lasting science fiction. In a genre where good writing is often secondary to interesting ideas and creative thinking, real innovative writing need not be the best craft, but it ought to provide something new. Planet Torn Asunder tries to do so, but it ends up being the same story all over again, this time with scales.
Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at [...] © Max Falkowitz, 2007