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Genellan: Planetfall by Scott G. Gier (Del Rey. paperback. 459 pp.)

Review from Starlog, The Science Fiction Universe, January, 1996

This debut novel should delight fans of military and adventure SF. Hostile aliens attack an exploration fleet and leave a small group of humans stranded on an Earth-like wilderness planet. The castaways fight for survival and forge an alliance with the native hunter-gatherer people until the arrival of rescuers from Earth collides with efforts by the hostile aliens to kill or capture them.

The novel begins well, with good military detail, and is at its best depicting the relations between the humans and the bat-like dwellers - who consider humans dirty, lazy, and ugly. Only Buccari, the pilot who becomes the humans' leader, develops much character, but the dwellers and their world are well-realized, though occasionally the planet Genellan seems too Earth-like. Less convincing are the other aliens, the Kones, who, with their decadent emperor, ruthless general, and scheming nobles seem like space opera cliches.

Still, Scott G. Gier pulls things together for a rousing climax with an excellent space battle, a grueling chase on Genellan, and plenty of room for sequels.

-- Scott W. Schumack

Genellan: Planetfall by Scott G. Gier (Del Rey. paperback. 459 pp, August 1995.) Cover by Bob Eggleton.

Review from Locus, April, 1995

Genellan: Planetfall is Scott G. Gier's first novel, but the title (let alone the action and situation) already leads me to expect at least one sequel. It begins in the middle of a space battle far from Earth, with the corvette Harrier One left behind as the human fleet retreats into hyperspace. The corvette's crew and complement of marines manage to land on one of the star's two habitable planets, but their spacecraft are destroyed in the attempt, leaving them stranded and not certain that they can ever be rescued. Despite the very detailed military/space-stuff that occupies the opening pages and the fact that it takes eleven chapters to get all the humans down to the planet's surface (though, to be fair, there is other business to introduce as well), the real armature of the book is the story of survival-in-the-rough and of first contact with alien races from two planets, with some alien politicking and its effect on the castaways thrown in for good measure.

Genellan's natives are smaller-than-human, bat-like cliff-dwellers, a pre-industrial folk divided into hunter and technician-scholar subspecies. Also present on Genellan are scientists from the star system's other habitable planet, Kon. The huge, lumbering kones have in the past considered the cliff-dwellers to be animals and hunted them for sport, leaving the natives more than a little apprehensive and hostile. The kones, on the other hand, once suffered a devastating raid by mysterious, murderous aliens, and ever since have stood ready to defend their solar system from any further attack - thus the ambush of the human exploratory fleet. Since an Earth fleet was also attacked and destroyed while exploring a generation earlier, perhaps by the raders of Kon, the stage is set for fear, mistrust, and misunderstanding on all sides.

Genellan immediately reminded me of C.J.Cherryh's Foreigner (even before its sequel, Invader, arrived for review next month), with humans marooned on an alien world and forced to understand its inhabitants. But where Cherryh focuses on the incommensurability of world-views and gut-level emotional responses across species lines (despite the uncannily human appearance of her atevi), Genellan opts for physical differences that clothe what turn out to be quite compatible psychological makeups - cliff-dwellers are Noble Primitives, brave, loyal, disciplined, and generous, while kones nod for yes, smile with pleasure or friendliness, and even weep tears.

Human characters likewise tend toward the stock - Chastain the big, not-too-bright marine; MacArthur the big, smart marine; Fenstermacher the little, smartmouth marine - and I wonder how much the main human character, Lt. Buccari, owes, if only subliminally, to Sigourney Weaver. Even among the aliens the roles are recognizable: the unconventional, dorky-genius kone scientist Dowornob (yes, it's pronounced just like you think it is) and his lady-love the brilliant (and more practical) linguist Kateos; the once-bloodthirsty-but-now-decadent kone Emperor-General Jook; the badass kone soldiery; the rising young cliff-dweller hunter Brappa and his father, Braan, the seasoned leader-of-hunters.

In fact, the feeling of otherness is generally muted. Genellan comes across as an unspoiled Canada, complete with mountain majesties, thundering herds of buffalo-equivalents, and human-digestible berries and animal proteins. On the whole, this strikes me as the opposite of what Damon Knight has characterized as "calling a rabbit a smeerp" - pasting an "alien" label on an otherwise quite un-exotic and somewhat underimagined creation. In this reversal, Genellan's flora and fauna get terrestrial names without any of the details that would remind us that they are not horses or ducks or bears or eagles, however well they might fit these roles or ecological niches.

None of which prevents Genellan from being an enjoyable adventure tale (and some of it may help), with all the time-tested machineries of cliffhangers and heroic sacrifice on the part of likeable characters. Gier's storytelling is compelling and propulsive, and his writing offers swatches of effective description and decently-turned military banter (though not without more verbs-of-saying than one might want). Genellan may be Canada-in-the-sky, but that doesn't keep it from being a good venue for encounters with alien critters, and there's always the possiblity that in a sequel we'll get to meet up with those really nasty aliens who hover in the background. Maybe they'll turn out to be tougher to understand and get along with, and ultimately more satisfying to deal with.

-- Russell Letson

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