"A highly recommended, character-driven sci-fi novel in the tradition of Robert A. Heinlein."– Kirkus Reviews
In Siemsen’s (The Opal, 2013, etc.) sci-fi novel, scientists embark on a long-distance, one-way voyage—and encounter disaster.
Minerva “Minnie” Sotiras is one of a small group of Earth scientists who’ve devoted their lives to studying the indigenous inhabitants of the planet Epsilon C from the orbital safety of their spaceship. The aliens have formed two polarized civilizations: the Hynka, a brutal, warlike people who live on one side of the planet, and the Threck (Minnie’s specialty), a peaceful, advanced people who live on the other half. Siemsen skillfully sketches in the basic interpersonal dynamics between Minnie and her shipmates, and then kicks off the main plot: a catastrophe renders the ship uninhabitable and sends its occupants fleeing into space in escape pods. As ill luck would have it, the pod containing Minnie and the ship’s captain lands in Hynka territory, and the story rapidly and expertly unfolds into a classic tale of alien survival and adaptation. Siemsen does a seamless job of blending the tech-speak of hard sci-fi and the exotica of alien worlds; the story’s technology is internally consistent and very well-explained, and the bizarre, terrifying animal life-forms of Epsilon C are vividly realized. Best of all, his well-drawn characters are emotionally resonant. Minnie, in particular, is a heroine to root for; she constantly strives to overcome not only the limitations of salvaged equipment, but also her own preconceptions about her colleagues and the natives of Epsilon C. The author has carefully worked out every detail of his story, and manages to infuse a genuine sense of urgency and humanity into a basic, clichéd plot. The action alternates steadily, building to a series of climaxes that, although predictable, are tense and satisfying; the tale also has an appealing sarcastic undertone. Readers of last year’s surprise sci-fi hit, Andy Weir’s The Martian, will find the same great blend of technology and storytelling here.
A highly recommended, character-driven sci-fi novel in the tradition of Robert A. Heinlein.
The further adventures of an intelligent, book-loving, body-swapping demon.
“I am such a coward,” thinks Samuel Beauchamp, the main character in Siemsen’s (A Warm Place to Call Home, 2013) latest novel, about a winningly confessional demon who’s “seemingly immortal, yet afraid of everything.” Samuel had been an ordinary teenager in 1930s California until he was hit by a truck and killed—only to find his consciousness was able to leap from body to body at will. Panicked and disoriented, he first takes possession of the driver who “killed” him, and it’s a jarring transition: “I smelled the dirt, the trees, the sharp aftershave from the cheeks and neck. My cheeks and neck. I was in control of this body now.” Samuel must learn the physics of this thing he does; for instance, if he’s not careful when he leaves the body of someone he’s possessing, he’ll leave them in a vegetative state, their minds wiped clean of all thought and memory. Not being the vindictive sort, he has no wish to do such a thing, and he gradually learns to slip in and out of his host bodies more gently. Still, there are details to adapt to: “Strange pains, different strengths, sensitivities, allergies, hair growth.” Samuel can’t access his hosts’ memories and must therefore figure out their lives on the go, and fortunately, Siemsen acutely and entertainingly works out the mechanics of the uncanny maneuver. This new set of adventures can be enjoyed independently of its predecessor, as bibliophile Samuel settles into life as a librarian in East Harlem until he encounters others of his kind roaming the world. In time, he meets Gregor, a revolting fellow demon who’s chosen a radically different approach to immortality than Samuel, and their confrontation provides a riveting climax.
A fascinating, at times moving story of a demon looking for normalcy.
An adult tale of possession with a devilishly ambiguous ending.
In Siemsen’s (The Opal, 2013, etc.) third novel, a demon named Frederick, infatuated with Joseph Cling’s girlfriend, Melanie Demotte, chooses to possess Joseph’s body. Frederick tells readers up front that the story ends with Joseph’s death but warns that he could be “lying (I am, by my very nature, a liar), just stringing you along.” Frederick successfully woos Melanie but barely manages to do Joseph’s job as a Postal Service investigator and fails utterly to fool Joseph’s twin brother, James—who knows more about Joseph (and, as it turns out, about Frederick) than anybody else does. Frederick goes on to face a series of disasters, both on and off the job. There’s no shortage of action in Siemsen’s well-spun tale, but the central conceit may require some suspension of disbelief; Frederick possesses Joseph’s body and remains a completely functional person, but he doesn’t recognize any of Joseph’s relatives, doesn’t remember any of the private language invented by Joseph and James, and has no idea how to perform his Postal Service job. There are also some unnecessary digressions into the origin of demons and questions of good and evil. One such digression, however, serves as a précis of this demon’s story: “I scoured my memory for every instance of my good, if not pure acts, while maintaining convicted reassurance that none of it mattered anyway. I am a fucking demon and this is what I do.”
An engaging, if uneven, supernatural tale.