Bruce Golden, Evergreen. Zumaya Otherwords, 2009. Pp. 342. ISBN 9781934841327. $17.95.Reviewed by Carolyn Crow
Though he began working on Evergreen years before the current explosion of public awareness of global warming and environmental issues generally took root, Bruce Golden’s foray into the forests of an alien world seems very timely. Yes, there is an underlying environmental theme, but the book is never preachy or pedagogical; despite the fantastic milieu he’s created for the planet Evergreen, this is a true character story. It’s told from several viewpoints, all the while exploring the emotional bents of revenge, redemption, and obsession.
If you’re looking for lots of futuristic advanced technology, this probably isn’t the book for you. Evergreen is still a frontier planet where many forms of technology are limited by solar activity and the planet’s magnetic field. Solar power is the colonists only form of energy other than muscle and sweat. The colony was initially built on the backs of its indentured lumberjacks, though “the company” that owns the planetary mineral rights has begun setting up mining operations.
A man known by the name of Gash is one of these timber jockeys. He’s got a past he’s trying to forget, and he makes use of the local narcotic to ease his pain—until he’s recruited by the colonists to join their insurrection against the company. This rebellion, led by a colorful “pirate” of a saloon owner, is only one of several storylines that crisscross and eventually converge for an almost surrealistic climax.
The novel unfolds when an ancient artifact is discovered on Evergreen, a heretic priest back on Earth becomes convinced it’s the link that will prove his theory about the existence of an extraterrestrial “City of God.” Dr. Nikira forms an expedition to Evergreen that includes renowned archaeology professor Luis Escobedo, his wife, Filamena, and his estranged son, Maximo. Unknown to the professor, his wife has recently put an end to a brief but passionate affair with Maximo, her stepson. She chastises herself for the weakness that led her to the affair, and is now determined to stay true to her husband. However, when Maximo unexpectedly joins the expedition, she must deal with the constant temptation of his presence.
Traveling aboard the same ship that will take them to Evergreen is Eamon, a young man wracked by both guilt and a need for vengeance. After years of searching, Eamon believes he’s finally tracked down the man responsible for his mother’s death. He intends to find the man and kill him. In order to do so, he has contracted himself to join the timber jockey workforce, which is made up mostly of debtors and convicts. Though the lessons he learns along the way may be a bit obvious, I still found the naivety of his character appealing.
At this future point of man’s exploration of space, several inhabitable planets have been discovered, but, as yet, not a single intelligent species outside of mankind has been found. However, an exobiologist studying a primate species on Evergreen believes these “ursu” may be only thousands of years away from evolving into a sort of primitive intelligence. She’ll discover these creatures have a past as well as a future.
I found the ursu to be one of the most interesting facets of the book. Once their entire story was told, it seemed to me, from a thematic point of view, that they represented primitive man on Earth. While the potential of the ursu’s intelligence is debatable, another intelligence on Evergreen is not. This one’s not so readily visible. I won’t give it away, but this is the literary centerpiece that connects the various character pieces of this tale, and brings them together at the end.
As for the relevant issue of the environment, it’s not something Golden slaps you across the face with. No character ever broaches it—there’s no editorializing. But, by the end of the book, questions have been raised in the reader’s mind: Should mankind be allowed to do whatever it wants with whatever planet it encounters? Should we be able to do whatever we wants with planet Earth?
One of the best aspects of this book is the way Golden sets up each and every payoff. The foreshadowing is subtle, but it builds dramatically and informatively. We get a little piece here, a tidbit there, until the entirety of it unfolds. One obvious example comes with the character of Gash, who experiences mental flashbacks from the thing that haunts him. Each time he flashes back, we get a little bit more of what actually happened—what led him to Evergreen.
Evergreen has everything you look for in a great science fiction read. Believably tormented characters, unique world-building, realistic dialogue, adventure, exploration, alien lifeforms, conflict, resolution, and topical content... by the time the book ended, I only wished it were longer. I wanted more of this alien world, and wanted to know what happened to these characters next—at least those who survived to the final page.
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