Quest of the Shadow-Forge
Meant as a companion to Stephen J. Bauer’s other book, The Evolutioning of Creation, this novel acts as a fictional approach to many of the author’s scientific and metaphysical theories. The novel has a lot of interesting elements going in its favor. Many readers enjoy learning from their fiction, and Bauer’s novel is brimming with remarkable scientific details about REM sleep cycles, insect biology and evolution, time-space theories, and gas physics that all tie in with developments in the novel. These developments are coupled with a strange kind of metafiction as the author also appears as a character and several direct references are made to his other book.
Bauer also tries to turn reading the book into a multimedia experience. He provides a collection of musical references to Moody Blues songs that he encourages the reader to listen too in order to set moods and compliment the action of the novel.
Once the science-fiction elements come into play the novel picks up speed. The discovery and exploration of other planets makes for exciting reading that just about any sci-fi fan can appreciate. Some of the interactions with alien creatures are likewise welcome additions as they give Andrew something to do or problems to solve; he’s at his best when he’s attempting to overcome obstacles. The conversation with the Palinode, for instance, is unique and fun as readers can watch Andrew discover how to get information from a being that essentially does not answer questions.
Asa fully developed fictional character, Andrew, the protagonist, is difficult to accept. He’s a twelve year old boy with ADHD who quotes Shakespeare, understands advanced theoretical physics, engages in philosophical debate on the natures of war and religion, has a vocabulary that includes words like “omnidirectional,” and is a connoisseur of the Moody Blues’s catalog. It may seem silly to be irked by these elements in a novel that includes space travel and black holes, but it’s sometimes hard to suspend disbelief for the fantastic parts when the parts that should seem familiar and true-to-life are harder to believe than the binary planets and talking plants that appear later.
Fora long time there really isn’t any tension. Nothing is at risk and no characters are in real danger. Part of this situation may come from the front loading of so much scientific and character information. At times the early parts of the book read more like lecture notes than a novel. Consequently, dialogue seems sometimes stilted, as though the characters were reciting talking points or talking solely for the purpose of exposition. This development crops up in other sci-fi novels like Frank Herbert’s God Emperor of Dune and in philosophical works that attempt a narrative such as Boethius’s The Consolations of Philosophy.
Usually,bringing up technical issues is nitpicking and not constructive as what may appear to be errors to some are actually part of an author’s stylistic device. There is, however, a radical point of view shift in the second chapter for which readers are not prepared. It is jarring more than anything else and interrupts the narrative flow.
In the final analysis, Quest of the Shadow-Forge should appeal to fans of science-fiction, especially “hard sci-fi” that places a lot of emphasis on the scientific theories and mechanics within the writing. More adventure elements crop up as the novel nears the halfway point, but once the story finds its legs, it takes off running.
Full disclosure notice: the author of this article received a copy of the novel in order to review it.
© 2009 Seth Tomko