Friday 25 July 2008

Wildside by Steven Gould

Steven Gould is currently best known as the author of Jumper, the SF novel about teleportation which was recently made into a film. It's a very good book (and I hope to re-read and review it here someday) but everything I've read about the film convinces me not to bother watching it, as Hollywood seems to have surpassed even its remarkable record of achievement in turning good books into poor films.

Anyway, to Wildside: Charlie Newell is a young American who has recently inherited a farm from his long-lost uncle. Close to the farmhouse is a large barn which backs into a small hill. Charlie finds a concealed doorway leading to a wide tunnel through the hill, and on the other side is another world: an alternative version of Earth, in which humans have never lived. Huge herds of bison roam, pursued by sabretooth cats, while vast flocks of passenger pigeons darken the sky.

Charlie is an unusual 18 year old; thoughtful, resourceful and rather obsessive about careful planning. With the aid of some friends he sets out to make his fortune from his discovery. With no roads this requires air transport, so Charlie's team qualify as pilots and drag disassembled planes through the tunnel to use on the Wildside. There is a lot of detail about light-plane flying and parachuting, which the author has evidently researched thoroughly. Needless to say, all does not go smoothly, especially when the authorities begin to suspect that there's something odd going on. All Charlie's wits and determination are required to keep ahead of his opposition.

The story is told in the first person by Charlie, and as he is a modest and unassuming guy the style is very matter-of-fact. Indeed, it is a plain, conventional and rather old-fashioned kind of tale, but is none the worse for that. The adventures which befall him and his friends are more than dramatic and exciting enough to grip any reader's attention and make the book difficult to put down until the unexpected, sobering but very topical conclusion.

The story is also about growing up, and learning to cope with relationship problems and the adult world. It succeeds admirably on all counts, and can be warmly recommended to readers of all ages.


Bill Garthright said...

I'm glad you liked it, Tony. I've been quite impressed with Steven Gould. He's always entertaining. But I think this might be my favorite (with "Jumper" close behind).

Anthony G Williams said...

Bill, I have another two books by him on my shelves, "Blind Waves", which is set in the near future, and "Helm", which differs in being set in the far future on an entirely different planet. These are also both entertaining reads.

Bill Garthright said...

Yes, I enjoyed those, too. And "Reflex," the sequel to "Jumper," is surprisingly good, as well. Much better than I expected.

Frankly, I would never have believed anyone could write a decent sequel to that book. After all, if you could teleport at will, you'd be almost invulnerable, wouldn't you? And I figured that Gould had covered the possibilities already in his first book. So the successful sequel was definitely a surprise.

Anthony G Williams said...

thanks for the tip - I've just placed an order for Reflex.

I haven't bought anything by him for a while - has he written any other books you'd recommend?

Bill Garthright said...

According to Wikipedia, he's also written "Greenwar" (1997), but I haven't read that. Well, it lists "Jumper: Griffin's Story" as his latest, but that's supposed to be based on a character from the FILM! Bizarre, huh?

Anthony G Williams said...

I can't say that I blame him for wanting to cash in on the marketing around the film - it's a rare opportunity for SF authors!

Spherical Time said...

Part of the joke about Griffin's Story was, if they're going to need a novelization, why not let the guy who wrote the original novel write it?

I don't think Griffin's Story is as strong a novel as Jumper, but it fits into the movie universe fairly well.

Reflex was brilliant though, and if search for it, there's a short story on the website called "shade" that is also set in the Jumper universe. Don't read it until after you've read Reflex though, because it contains spoilers.

Anthony G Williams said...

Thanks for that, my copy of 'Reflex' arrived a while ago and it's sitting on my very large "to read" pile!