Greetings, Happy Readers!
This is Part 2 of my Review of
The Legacy of Heorot Series!
This series review will be in 3 parts:
Part 1 – Book 1: The Legacy of Heorot (1987)
Part 2 – Books 1.5 & 2: The Secret of Black Ship Island (2012) & Beowulf’s Children (1995)
Part 3 – Book 3: Starborn & Godsons (2020)
This series is what I consider to be Epic Science Fiction. It is some of the best Extra-Terrestrial Colony Science Fiction out there. The world building is so detailed, and the alien creatures’ biology so intricate, that it is hard to NOT believe that they could exist.
|I will also be doing a Part 4 at a later time for the novel Destiny’s Road (1997), which is written in the same universe, but on an entirely different planet.|
Now, on to the important part!
It should be noted that Book #2, Beowulf’s Children, was published first (1995), and The Secret of Black Ship Island was published 17 years later (2012). I’m reviewing them together and talking about events in CHRONOLOGICAL ORDER so as to prevent confusion. And believe me, confusion can happen, as seen in the timeline inconsistencies made in book #3… but we’ll discuss that there. I will point out certain age/timeline events here just to focus on them.
Book #1.5 – The Secret of Black Ship Island
The oldest children of the settlers on Avalon are now in their late teens and want independence from their parents and guardians. They especially don’t want parents around for an initiation ceremony, held on Black Ship Island, for the younger children just reaching their teens. But when previously unknown creatures make their deadly appearance, things go horribly wrong … A novella set before the events that unfold in BEOWULF’S CHILDREN.
As I did in Part 1, let me issue a bit of a warning on this review. Because I’m going through this whole series, including the newest, I plan to ‘Discuss’ & ‘Summarize’ the books. That means there will be spoilers! But don’t worry, I’ll warn you ahead of time. If that is a problem for you, then don’t go past the warning sign below. You’ll be fine reading the first part, which will be my typical ‘Review’ section.
And, here we go, again…
The Secret of Black Ship Island: For me, this novella has an odd feel to it because it was written AFTER book #2. If you read it in publication order (which I did originally), then it becomes a prequel flashback. You already know the future, so it is hard to accept the character of Aaron Tragon as depicted in it. If you read it in CHRONOLOGICAL order, then you won’t have that foreknowledge as mental baggage and can take the story as is. Also, if you are like me and read book #2 over two decades before and ‘forgot’ most of it, then you can achieve some of the same effect. I usually recommend reading a series (esp. a good one) in the order of publication so that you get the same effect as most other readers. In this case, though, I’ll say that Chronological Order is better simply because this novella helps to ‘explain’ some of the details regarding the state of affairs (socio-political) and cultural norms (The Grendel Scouts as a social group-structure) that are in full swing when Book #2 starts.
The story is an interesting one, and the ‘monster encounter’ is certainly a nail-biter. I did have trouble empathizing with the ‘angsty teens’. This is me being a grumpy old man, though. I’m sure a teen or young adult would have no problem whatsoever with all the teen feelings. As for me, I could ‘see the stupid’ a mile away and I didn’t care for it. *shrug* YMMV. Luckily, the character development and world building are just as phenomenal as ever. That pulls the story back from the brink of being an 80’s horror story where the kids at the lake do all ‘teh dumbs’ that leads to their demise.
So let’s talk about Cthulhu’s. Iä! Iä! Cthulhu fhtagn! Ph’nglui mglw’nafh Cthulhu R’lyeh wgah-nagl fhtagn… ahem… sorry. The cephalpoidial (this word doesn’t exist according to Google, but it does now!) entities on the planet Avalon called ‘cthulhus’ by the humans. They are some tough customers. They don’t have ‘speed’ like grendels, but they have electric whip tentacles and acid spit that can dissolve you alive. They actually HATE grendels, which is why they… oh wait… spoiler territory. Anyway, they are bad asses and you’ll have to read the story to understand just how bad-ass.
So, yes, I did enjoy this novella quite a lot. You definitely don’t want to skip it when reading this series.
From this point forward, spoilers are going to be in play. Scroll on down to the ‘End Of Spoilers’ sign to pick up at the review of Beowulf’s Children. Otherwise, if you want to see more about Black Ship, carry on!
Plot Summary & Discussion:
The beginning of this story is 180-out from Legacy. Instead of a bustling and busy expansion of a new colony with more work than you can shake a stick at, you start off in a lazy beach-bum’s paradise with a bunch of horny teenagers and no sexual moors. Work is a thing you do every now and again between nightly parties, booze and sex. The main goals are how to keep secrets from the Earthborn with “Ice on their minds” and how to not be bored… thus the parties and the sex!
The primary theme I see revolves around typical pre-adult angst coupled with a desire to rebel that’s pushing them to do more and more dangerous stuff, while the adults are over-cautious after the Grendel Wars. The added complication of the ‘Bottle Babies’ — creche raised artificial womb gestated children — is mentioned, but not focused on in this story. It will become much more important an issue in Book #2, which is why it is foreshadowed here (or maybe it’s pre-shadowed since this was written after the fact?).
The story conflict begins with the death of one of the Starborn teens at the hands (tentacles, actually) of a sea monster known as a cthulhu. The boundary pushing leads Aaron and his friend Archie, to challenge an ‘off limits’ area of surfing. Archie is killed by a cthulhu reacting to the grendel image painted on his surfboard, but no one really believes Aaron about that. They think he died by hitting the rocks in the dangerous area, and that Aaron, as de facto leader of the group and the instigator, is responsible. Aaron, unable to take the unfair criticism, leaves and becomes a ‘coffee’ farmer in the mountain area. Marshall — Firstborn of the Starborn, Aaron’s closest rival for leadership, and also Archie’s brother — takes the reigns.
Eventually, it come time for the annual Grendel Scout ‘Hell Night’, an induction ceremony for the children of the colony who are approaching their adolescence. They are put through a hazing and welcomed into the Grendel Scouts through various trials. The Grendel Scouts are a group formed by and controlled solely by the Starborn. As part of Hell Night, the inductees are also informed of the problem that exists within the minds of the Earthborn generations… Hybernation Instability, or “Ice on their Minds”.
While this affliction explains why some of the Earthborn are mentally off, the Starborn also blame it for the lack of motivation to expand and explore the rest of Avalon. The Starborn also believe this is the source of the ‘rules’ the adults make and follow without question, because they do not trust themselves to make good choices in a crisis. This, one might argue, is their own over-simplification of the truth due to the fact that they have never experienced the dangers that the adults have during the Grendel Wars. The Starborn want the chance to explore and inherit the world that they believe to belong to them, and the Grendel Scouts is the mechanism they use to ‘recruit’ more people to their cause. By the beginning of Beowulf’s Children a few years later, the first Starborn are full adults, and almost a majority of the population, but are still chafing at being controlled by the Earthborn and their ‘rules’.
That’s why this story should be read Chronologically. It is important in understating the origin of the ‘faction’ mentality seen in book #2 and especially the events of book #3.
I really see no point in spoiling the events of the trip to Black Ship Island, so I’ll summarize by saying that monsters happen and Aaron (who shows up at Cadmann’s prompting… see my comments on this in the spoilers section of Beowulf’s Children below) save the day and reasserts himself as leader of the Starborn by sheer heroism.
Book #2 – Beowulf’s Children
Some twenty years have passed since the passengers and crew of the starship Geographic established a colony on the hostile alien world of Avalon. In that time, a new generation has grown up in the peace and serenity of the island paradise of Camelot, ignorant of the Great Grendel Wars fought between their parents and grandparents and the monstrous inhabitants of Avalon.
Now, under the influence of a charismatic leader, a group of young rebels makes for the mainland, intent on establishing their own colony, sure that they can vanquish any foe that should stand in their way.
But they will soon discover that Avalon holds darker secrets still.
Beowulf’s Children: This novel is both similar and different from Legacy of Heorot. It is similar in it’s pacing and rise & fall of conflict. It has climactic plateaus [The first ‘speed bee’ attack, the airship hijacking, the death wind]. It also has the ‘required’ Avalon surprise and new creatures. The major difference is that instead of a love story, it is a psychological thriller. The pivotal character of Aaron Tragon and those that orbit his influence make up the primary actors of the Starborn. Some of the characters are antipodes or foils to him, but the Earthborn as a group are his rivals, with Cadmann Wayland as the focal point.
The plot is one that continually pulls you along with foreshadowing and clever emotional manipulation via POV shifts between characters. Those characters are all distinct and have individual motivations that are nuanced and complex. The entire novel is a study in how to write a complex character set in a plot driven story. The craftsmanship displayed in the book is amazing. Some serious care went into its development by the three authors.
The story is series of events, some orchestrated by the Starborn, that bring the colonists to confrontation with the mainland of Avalon. It answers questions that have been mysteries for more than 20 years. It also reveals the depth of their collective LACK of knowledge of the planet and its other dangers. The revelation of the psychological effects of the colony’s decision to ‘community raise’ the children born in artificial wombs is also a key point that has dramatic consequences. Lastly, the intellectual potential of grendels shown in book #1, is brought to the forefront and expanded upon dramatically. The introduction of several new alien species to the reader is also one of the highlights for me.
I would be tempted to say this is the best book in the series, but that would not give credit to Legacy ,which started it all. So, I’ll have to settle for it being tied for first place.
Now, I’ll get into the details as my observations, so spoiler alert!
Plot Summary & Discussion:
The typical setup for the series is for the planet to be the bad guy with some well intended (and usually selfish) person or group to be its unwitting aide. You could argue that is still the case in this one, but Aaron Tragon, leader of the Starborn is the principle antagonist in this book in my opinion, simply because it is more of a psychological thriller than a straight sci-fi tome.
In Legacy of Heorot, the colonists, egged on by the jealousy of Sylvia Faulkner’s husband toward Cadmann Weyland, causes them to ignore warnings and become victims of the planet. In Black Ship Island, the young Starborn manipulate the Earthborn into allowing a dangerous adventure to happen because of their rebellious tendencies. Similaryly, in Beowulf’s Children, the Starborn force the issue of rapid expansion to the mainland. The big difference is that it Aaron Tragon himself this is manipulating BOTH groups into working toward that goal. The planet just happens to be dangerous. And, to be honest, the stakes are not as high because the entire colony is not in danger.
Since I classify this book as a Psychological Thriller, let me explain that dynamic.
We begin with Aaron and crew, which includes Jessica Weyland (Cadmann’s oldest daughter) and the several of the Bottle Babies as a primary cohort of the Starborn leader. Jessica is his current/prime girlfriend. She is drawn to him as a leader, and her status as the daughter of the colony’s top dog is a draw for him. The ‘inner circle’ is made up of the best physical specimens of the youths, now in prime adulthood. They are bored with the idyllic lifestyle they have been in since birth, and they have a feeling of (undeserved) superiority because of it. The creche raised bottle babies have an even stranger disposition due to the inadequacies of the artificial womb in which they were decanted to life. They have a tendency toward socipathy, and although it can be mitigated through ‘nurture’ as kids by their parents, the first borns often didn’t get the focused attention they needed because they were raised by a ‘village’ rather than a ‘parent’. This is what has caused Aaron Tragon to devote all his desire and energy to the ideal of conquering the planet. He wants to be the future of Avalon. He plans to conquer the mainland and establish a dynasty for the future. The problem is that his lack of true emotional attachment to people means he is willing to sacrifice them to achieve his goal. Aaron’s sociopath tendencies are foreshadowed and slowly, subtly unfolded in the first part of the book. You see him as a young charismatic leader admired by all in the beginning, but backstories of other characters who are not as enamored with him begin to reveal his darker tendencies. The reasoning behind it and the full declaration of it does not come until the end, and the circumstances of the story do not allow it to be addressed before it results in multiple tragedies.
Now, let’s go through the plot and identify those climactic plateaus like I did for Legacy.
Trips to the mainland do actually occur, but a full time settlement is not established there. That is the desire of Aaron and the Starborn. They use a giant derrigible name Robor to make the trip from the island of Camelot to a mining base that has been established. The trips are infrequent, but when they happen, the children often go to complete the Grendel Scout inductions (Hell Nights). The threat of grendel attacks, while still quite real, have been mitigated with reflex training and terrain control. The children have been programmed to react almost on an instinctual level to the sight of a grendel. They go armed and can aim, shoot and kill a grendel almost before they think about it, which is required to overcome its speed. They also stay away from water sources that a grendel might use for cooling itself. Thus they don’t go into ‘grendel country’ except for ‘planned’ expeditions by the Grendel Scouts who use the dangerous situation as their initiation ritual. They usually cut communications off when they go on the group outings to keep the adult Earthborn from knowing what they do.
One of these expeditions is forced to happen (and pushed for by Aaron) due to a mysterious set of explosion in the mine shaft that has shut down production of the coal used for the production of industrial plastics that the colony needs. Some suspicion that it is an act of sabotage by a group called the Merry Pranksters, but their practical jokes in the past have never been destructive. This attitude is the permanent flaw of the colony of Avalon. As stated in my Part 1 review of Legacy, “Not wanting to consider the possibility of unpleasant truths is the true enemy of the colonist of Avalon! It is a shared character flaw in all but a few of them.”
Thus, while caution in this new situation is highly warranted, they run off with very little attention given to security (by the Starborn especially, but even the Earthborn are less than insistent on precautions). When the Starborn run off to do their Grendel Scout thing, a tragedy occurs at the mine. Joe Sikes, Earthborn, and Linda Wayland Sikes (Cadmann’s younger daughter and currently nursing mother to an infant boy named Cadzie – yes, they brought a baby with them… *eyebrow raise*) are left to investigate the mine. While at the base camp, a strange windstorm blows through, bringing with it the newest unknown danger that Avalon has to offer… bees on speed. The two adults and their two canine companions are eaten alive by the carnivorous insects. Only the baby, Cadzie, is unharmed. The only reason anyone can come up with is the fact that he was wrapped in a blue colored blanket that somehow warded off the insects. The thing is, they don’t KNOW that it was insect. The colony knows something is wrong because they are in communication via Cassandra, the AI computer in orbit above the planet. They have a hard time contacting the other group (comms turned off), but they finally return to find that only skeletons and the baby remain. The trip is called off and they evacuate back to Camelot. This is the end of plateau #1.
The Earthborn are once more sent into panic mode by their lack of ability to properly deal with danger, and refuse to allow more expeditions to the mainland. Aaron, being obsessed as he is, has to regroup to find a way to force the issue. This is where normal societies would find a way to safely compromise. Unfortunately, the Earthborn are afraid that they don’t know how to make safe decisions because of hibernation instability while the Starborn are sure they know how to handle everything because they think they are the best (even though they have never had a real challenge thrown at them that they have to deal with on the spot). Aaron, obsessed as he is, begins to make plans and subtly manipulate people toward his goal. This time through rebellion.
The Starborn mastermind a plan to take supplies and steal the airship Robor in order to return to the mainland and set up a permanent settlement. Jessica Weyland, plants a device that interrupts comms signals to her father’s home so that he can’t react. Using the recent worsening weather patters, they construct a fake storm in the computer system that forces the grounding of all but one of the colony’s Skeeters (hovercraft VTOL plane). They temporarily sabotage the rest. They steal the supplies they need and launch Robor. Cadmann and his best friend, Carlos, crash land a skeeter onto Robor‘s deck and work to disable it before it can reach the mainland. Aaron’s crew tries to stop them, causing Cadmann to shoot a young man named Toshiro Hanaka. Toshiro falls from the airship to perish in the sea below. The rebellion fails, but Aaron still uses the situation to his advantage by convincing the leadership that they have to give in to the demands of the Starborn. He argues that it is the Earthborn who are the unreasonable side while pointing out the death of Toshiro as the evidence. This is climactic plateau #2.
It is at this point that Cadmann begins to consider that Aaron is potentially a psychopath. Cadman realizes that although Aaron may not have planned it outright, the death of Toshiro or some other Starborn during the incident was an outcome that he had considered, and had contingencies for as a path to achieve his goal.
As I mentioned in part 1 of this series review, the idea of someone being psychopathic enough to kill to further a goal is a repeated theme. Cadmann himself was accused of it by the colony when his friend Ernst died to the first grendel they fought over 20 years before.
Cadmann’s epiphany concerning Aaron is the moment where he begins to feel personal responsibility for what is happening. In The Secret of Black Ship Island, he was the one who encouraged Aaron to end his self-imposed seclusion and return to help lead the group of Starborn, and to reclaim the heart of the ill-fated Willow. Cadmann begins to understand that he has made a horrible misjudgment of character. It has already potentially cost him a daughter and the life of Toshiro at his hands. Eventually, it will lead to the death of his oldest daughter Jessica and several other Starborn, but he will not be there to see it because of his own death of Aaron’s hand. Of course, if he had not misjudged Aaron’s character, the dangers of the mainland would still be present, so that simply have meant a postponement. We’ll never know. Still, even in Book #3, Starborn & Godsons, the consequences of Aaron Tragon’s path through life continue to negatively affect Cadmann’s progeny… but we’ll get to that in part 3 of my review.
The interrelationships between people is a key part of this novel. Unfortunately, they are far too complicated to summarize effectively. You’ll simply have to read it to understand why the characters do what they do. I will describe one important one, because even though Aaron Tragon is a central character, again, he is the antagonist. One of, if not THE primary protagonist, is Justin Faulkner. He is Cadmann Wayland’s adopted son, firstborn to Sylvia Faulkner (Cadmann’s second wife… yeah, that happened) and her deceased husband, Terry who died defending the colony at Cadmann’s Bluff during the Grendel War. Many of the books events are told from Justin’s POV. He is not part of Aaron’s ‘inner circle’, but carries a lot of weight just by being Cadmann’s son. He has a secret love for Jessica even though they were raised as brother and sister, which is mutual but never acted upon.
Jessica is with Aaron, who she is both attracted to and secretly afraid of. Justin’s feelings complicate things because of the underlying jealousy that fosters ill-will between the two young men. It’s a very similar situation to the one between Cadman and Terry regarding Sylvia in Legacy.
After the events of the airship theft, Cadmann’s relationship with Jessica is highly strained because he feels he can’t trust her. Justin and she also are estranged (he was left behind at Cadmann’s house by the rebels), but his feelings toward her eventually work past the problem.
Finally, before I move on in the plot, you need to know about Old Grendel. She is a grendel who saw the arrival of the Geographic to Avalon. Her mind was expanded when an Avalonian parasite (fluke) embedded itself in her skull, causing a symbiosis state to occur. She became smarter and more inquisitive, which allowed here survive a global climactic shift that happens when the sun reaches a peak output cycle every 50 years. It is about to reach that peak again, which is why the weather events are increasing, and she knows of the dangers to come. She has been observing the humans (she calls them Weirds) since the bee attack incident. She is able to control herself and find ways to move closer to the humans to study them as a result. She is also aware that the thing that changed her comes from a particular place, and she intentionally moves her progeny there to let them become smarter. She is looking for a way to communicate with the humans. She wants to trade her knowledge of the dangers of the coming Death Wind for protection in her old age.
As the colony gives over to the desires of the younger generation, a new, permanent outpost, called Shangi-La, is established on the mainland. New beasts are discovered: Chamels (horse-like quadrupeds that have the ability to change colors like a chameleon) and the giant crab-like Scribes of the Veldt area (huge creatures the size of a small village that roam and eat wide swaths of plant matter. They even have an entire dim-light ecology UNDER them and any grendels that attack them are trapped in place on their hides and thrash themselves to death!). Taming this new wilderness is dangerous, and some lives are lost in the process, but to the Starborn, these are acceptable losses taking in the fight for their future. Aaron, though, is intentionally careless beyond reason when any potential threat to his plans for expansion are encountered. He would rather risk all than let the over-cautious nature of the Earthborn derail their momentum. Discovery of the colonies of the speed-bees is one instance. When they realize that the bees are on speed and will explode when they come in contact with fire, he recklessly blows up the hive without concern for the consequences, which nearly results in people getting killed. As a result, some of the other Starborn become more leery of Aaron, including Jessica.
When Cadmann travels to the mainland to inspect the new settlement, the incident with the bees happens. They finally realize what happened to Linda & Joe Sikes at the mine. The bees are so prevalent in the area, they investigate, eventually determining that the bees will swarm the entire are after the rains let up. A storm front was moving in and they needed to evacuate the mainland immediatly. Aaron, knowing this would ruins all his plans for conquest, shoots Little Chaka, the biologist, in the head and fights with Cadmann. Aaron wins the fight, killing Cadmann, and then returns to Shangri-La and blames the men’s deathes on grendels.
Old Grendel is present in the area where the fight happens. She recognizes Cadmann from a previous encounter. She chooses to save Little Chaka, who is not dead, from the grendels spawning in the area. She hides him underground in a safe place as the storms roll through and flood the area. After the water starts to recede, she takes him back to Shangri-La where he puts paid to the lie Aaron has told. Unfortunately, the bees erupt at that time in what Old Grendel calls the Death Wind, and bring destruction to the camp. Old Grendel hides in the settlement’s water tank and survives. Others survive by hiding beneath Cadzie blue blankets and using flame-throwers against the bees, but many do not, including Jessica Weyland. Through some heroics by several people, and the arrival of Robor which was at the nearby mines, they evacuate the survivors. Aaron is not among them. End of plateau #3. The rest is epilogue.
Two years go by as they wait for things settle down on the mainland. They plan a new settlement to be established in the Scribeveldt where there are no bees and very few grendels. They have to set up relay points between Camelot & the new settlement though, so Shangri-La is chosen as one. They return there to be greeted by Aaron and the Old One, who have formed a bond and a mutual protection pact that has kept them both alive. Aaron is a changed man now, horribly scarred by the ordeal, and somewhat deranged. He claims that the old Aaron is dead, and the new Aaron is now the Grendel Whisperer. That is the only reason they decide not to execute him.
The last lines of the book are the thoughts of Old Grendel as she looks to the future of cooperation between her kind and humanity.
I have to say that the ending was less than satisfying to me. I would have killed that piece of crap, Aaron. The grendels were a known problem with a working solution. Old Grendel might have simply started working with some other human if he was dead. They didn’t need him. For that reason, it lost a star in my rating.
Other than that complaint, I found this book to be quite excellent.
As before, I hope you’ve enjoyed reading this overly verbose and spoiler filled run-down. I would love to hear your observations about the book if you have read them, so leave a comment below.
Part 3 will be coming soon after. There’s a whole lot more to discuss in Starborn & Godsons.
If Science Fiction Space Adventure is what you crave, then you should check out my anthology, Horizons Unlimited: Volume 1.
Matter conversion technology—Matt-Con—has broadened the scope of mankind’s existence. It has opened up the real possibility of viable colonies on other planets in our solar system, and even space itself. Anywhere matter can be captured or energy from the sun can be felt, the possibility of expanding human habitation exists.
In this volume:
Quicksilver (short story)
The space station Chariot of Helios—on its way to Mercury to become a power collection station for Earth’s growing need for energy to power matt-con tech—encounters a strange anomaly that threatens ship and crew.
Null Gravitas (short story)
New crew and new relationships form above the skies of Venus. A post-prequel to Escaping Aurora.
Escaping Aurora (novella)
The sudden destruction of mankind’s first atmospheric terraforming platform leaves three unlucky exonauts struggling to survive in the skies of Venus aboard a cobbled-together airship. Meanwhile, the commander of the space station above battles obstacles that might keep her from rescuing her stranded husband and crew in time.
If you like intrigue, humor and a bit of speculative technological supposition, you should pick up a copy of my technothriller-comedy eConscience Beta from Amazon today!
Peacekeeper Incorporated’s breakthrough nanotechnology could bring repeat offense crime to an end, freeing society from the need for criminal incarcerations. But first, they have to finish testing it. With funding on the line, and time to prove out the project getting short, the lead scientist must find a way speed things up. That’s unfortunate for his guinea pig, and anyone who would stand in his way.
Can the goal of ending most crime justify committing one… even a few?
And what happens when you conflate altruism with egotism?
Find out in eConscience Beta, where two lab techs and an uncouth petty criminal must outwit a brilliant but sociopathic scientist who’ll stop at nothing to establish his legacy as the man who ended crime.