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Over the Edge: The Beginning

[Over the Edge: The Beginning] Over the Edge: The Beginning
by Marilyn W. Lathrop
Published by PublishAmerica, 2004
Amazon.com: paperback
Amazon.ca: paperback
Amazon.co.uk: paperback
Suggested by: Greg Slade

This is the first book in a projected series. I tell you this right up front as a warning. If you, like me, are the kind of reader who gets impatient with setting the stage and just want to get on with the story, then this book will drive you nuts, because the whole book is setting the stage. Lathrop introduces a large cast of characters, with competing goals, hidden agendas, intrigue, mystery, the whole bit. However, every time I thought that she had finished introducing the cast and dressing the set, she'd bring in yet another character, with yet another set of goals which conflicted with some character we've already met. And then, to top it all off, she ends the book with a cliffhanger, leaving me begging for the next book. (Note to Marilyn: You had better be ready to take the next book to press right now, because I am not a patient guy.)

Okay, so, frustration aside, here's what's going on: there is a cluster of planets inhabited by marsupians, who, as the name implies, are marsupial. Because their young come out of the birth canal into a pouch much earlier in their development, they have several anatomical differences from Earth humans, known to the marsupians as "placentals", the most important of which is that they have larger heads to accommodate two distinct brains, and thus communicate with both spoken and gestural language simultaneously. One group, known as the Minans, live on a separate planet, are more technologically advanced, but are very secretive, always wearing veils and demanding privacy. They very much want to be involved in a mission to study Earth humans, but they dare not lower their veil of privacy to do so publicly, and thus resort to subterfuge to find out what they want to know. Thus, they put the different trader captains being considered to to fly the scientific mission to Earth under surveillance, including Reeser Peland, who comes as close to being the protagonist of this story as anybody else.

In her favour, Lathrop does introduce a large and varied cast of characters, and describes them with enough detail to give readers a reasonably clear mental picture of each. This makes for a nice departure from the "Golden Age" model of science fiction upon which I cut my literary teeth, where an author throws together a half-dozen two dimensional (and very nearly interchangeable) characters, who only manage to keep from boring the reader to death because the focus is all on the technology. Also, she does manage to spin enough plots, counter-plots, sub-plots, and red herrings that she seems likely to be able to sustain the story through a multiple book series. However, having taken a little bit of linguistics, I was disappointed that she didn't develop her idea of multiple communication streams a bit more thoroughly, such as having the spoken and gestured languages carry different meanings. (For example, have one express logic, and the other emotion, or to have the degree of divergence in content between one form and the other be an indication of when a character is lying, or whatever.) Then too, several of the characters make mistakes which are so fundamental that they strained my willing suspension of disbelief. Presumably, these mistakes were necessary to spinning the plot which Lathrop has in mind (and which I have not yet fathomed), but they do mar the story, at least for me. But by biggest complaint is the least specific: these aliens don't seem terribly alien to me. Their bodies might be different, but their clothes, furniture, and vehicles all seem likely to blend right in in 21st century America. (I don't know, maybe it's being overly picky to complain about aliens not being weird enough to suit me, but there you have it.)

The Christian content in the first book has been very understated. Many of the marsupians, and a small minority of Minans, worship God. (The marsupians call Him "The Eternal", while Minan God-fearers call Him "The Most High.") Again, this is something which will probably only play out in its fullness once the series is complete. (January, 2005)

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