Sunrise is Surprising

PlayItGrand April 11, 2011 1 Comment »

The newest Stargate novel from Fandemonium is here. You may want to have your sunglasses nearby when you get your hands on it!

Stargate SG-1: Sunrise is actually written by two authors. Sally Malcolm and Laura Harper. Malcolm is known among Stargate fans for writing the SG-1 novels, A Matter of Honor and its sequel, The Cost of Honor. These two were among my favorite of the seventeen SG-1 novels to date. The story was compelling and the description was stunning. She also wrote “Gift of the Gods”, a Big Finish audio novel performed by Michael Shanks. “An Eye for an Eye,” Big Finish’s next SG-1 project voiced by Michael and Claudia Black, is highly anticipated. Harper, by contrast, is entirely new to novel writing, and I think it shows in Sunrise. The two authors together chose to take a pen name, J.F. Crane. For the sake of simplicity, I’m going to refer to the author as Crane.

Sunrise is a story that follows directly after the SG-1 season 4 episode “Beneath the Surface,” and attempts to play on the psychological effects the memory stamps left on the team. The stamps gave them fake lives, new names, and the belief that they were working hard underground feeding and maintaining heating systems so their people can survive an ice age. The success of Crane’s attempt to use those events is debatable. This isn’t the first time where a novel has played off of the residual effects of a particular episode of the series, and it certainly won’t be the last. However, if I was trying to write one such novel, “Beneath the Surface” would not be among my top choices. Honestly, there are episodes that would have a much stronger influence on SG-1. What’s a little memory stamp compared to getting killed and then brought back to life by the Nox? What about having their memories altered by Nem in “Fire and Water”, convincing the team that Daniel Jackson was dead so they left him behind?

The aftereffects of “Beneath the Surface” would have been much more convincing if each character had been equally effected. Of the four, Jack O’Neill and Sam Carter seemed the most shaken by the experience, while Teal’c and Daniel never appear to dwell on the experience at all. Does anyone else think this is odd? The two trained military personnel are the ones that are hesitating and second guessing their actions because of the remnants of a fake personality in their minds? As Sam said in “Hathor” (another episode that would give an author a wealth of phycological damage to play with), Jack is Special Forces trained to resist mind control. So why should the memory of Jonah, a man opposite to his nature in oh so many ways, hold Jack up? He is hardly the kind to linger on such things. He is far more likely to dismiss it as the mind games of a sycophant and block it from his mind, especially while off world. 

The timing of those moments when the personalities that Sam and Jack were stamped with, Thera and Jonah, would try to return to the forefront of Sam and Jack’s minds were frequent at the beginning, almost to the point where they should not have been permitted to be on active duty. As time went on, Thera and Jonah showed up less and less frequently, but that was both a blessing a curse. At times it was easy to forget all about them. At other times when Thera or Jonah would come into play, it seemed forced, as though Crane forgot about them for a while too, and at that point remembered and felt the need to remind the reader that their influence was still there, though fading. The problem is that the mind stamp was not such a hurtle for SG-1 that Crane could spend the whole book focusing on their need to overcome it. Instead the memories of the stamp was an inconvenience. Their experience as brainwashed slaves had more effect on their reaction to their new situation than the remnants of the stamp.

The plot itself is similar in some ways to “Beneath the Surface”, but it has some surprising and very good twists. Ierna is a plant in a whole lot of conflict, both culturally and ecologically. First you have a huge ocean that seems to have wiped out a lot of the planet’s landmass. The half submerged city is kind of a dead giveaway to that. Then you have an intensely hot sun. So hot that the noon hours are literally called “The Burn”, and everyone hides in whatever shelter they can find. The heat and radiation probably melted any glaciers the planet ever had, resulting in the flooding. Whether you believe in Global Warming or not, this is how it would play out in most scenarios.

Next you have a divided culture. You have a city under a shield, protecting it from the burning sunlight and heat, while still providing a view of the outside world, for what it’s worth. Living inside the dome are a bunch of namby pamby religious zealots who worship the very thing that they hide from: the Sun! They speak of it as the Lord God, using terminology and description that are very easily recognized as taken from the Catholic faith, though strongly leaning towards the Old Testament interpretation, where God would actively smite and punish those who did not obey his will. To that affect, anyone who didn’t believe, – or just as likely, anyone who didn’t obey the Elect, the hereditary leaders in both faith and politics – would wind up outside, where the Sun’s wrath can reach them. There, in the Badlands, a strand of beach along the saltwater ocean, people lived in squalor. They spend most of the day hiding from the sun.

Naturally, SG-1 gets caught in the middle. I laughed so hard after reading the preview page at the beginning of the book. You know, that odd one page of text that they pulled straight out of the story to serve as a hint as to what the book is about. They always end either with someone saying just how much trouble they are in, or else with someone saying something profoundly ironic. This one fell into the ironic category. Jack says to his team, “We are not — repeat, not — gonna get dragged into another mercy mission.” You can see why I burst out laughing, right?

The conflict between the two cultures is an interesting reversal on what we saw in “Beneath the Surface.” There we had a workforce of people living and serving willingly while people lived in luxury on the surface. Those in leadership, like Administrator Collder, believe that their way off life would suffer if the workers joined their community, and people would be unwilling to share. In Sunrise, the people suffer for absolutely no reason. They are not serving anyone. They were likely sent outside because they refused to serve. The people within the Ark live in total ignorance of the suffering of those outside. Interestingly, knowledge is kept from them. They are taught to believe that they are the chosen, and anyone else is corrupt and damned. They are brainwashed by their religion, taught to believe that the Elect know the will of their God, and to contradict them is herecy.  Likewise, knowledge of technology and of “The Time Before” is forbidden and deemed heretical. The people of the Badlands have gathered and safeguarded whatever knowledge they could find, and finding hope in what little they could understand of it.

I was very excited when I immediately recognized the heritage of these people, taken from Earth by the Goa’uld so long ago, as Celtic. I have a keen interest in the Irish culture, not only because I am part of that heritage (ok, only 5% but who’s counting, right?) but because I find it just as fascinating as many people find ancient Egypt to be. It wasn’t hard for me to recognize the language that the people of Ierna intermixed with English as Gaelic in origin, and as I read on I was eagerly looking forward to more insights into the origin of Ierna’s people. Sadly I was disappointed. There was nothing. No references to folklore, no talk of supernatural. All that remained was that ability to tell stories, keeping a verbal history of their existence through tales and legends, but there was nothing predating the terrible schism that tore their culture in two.

 When it started to become clear that the people within the shield – the Ark as they call it – were very religious, I was hoping to see something that I would recognize as Celtic Paganism, predating Christianity. Instead Crane took what I consider to be the easy path. You don’t have to be Catholic to know the basic tenants of the faith. Most of what Crane used nearly came directly from The Ten Commandments. Using the Celtic’s early pagan faith and rituals as a basis for the religion on Ierna would have required lots of research. I know from experience because I have been trying to write and SG-1 fanfiction story based in Celtic mythology for literally years. However, if Crane had gone this extra step, the effect would have been extremely rewarding, and served to better tie the fictitious religion to the not-so-fictitious Celtic origins of the people.

I also find the apparent helplessness of the people of the Badlands rather odd. They cling to their shanty town there as if there are resources there that they depend on. About the only resource that they appear to have is fish, and they can only catch what they can eat immediately since anything more will simply spoil in the scorching heat. The Badlands themselves can only make up a small part of the whole planet. Even if they are located on the equator, which seems likely, there has to be a relatively moderate climate somewhere closer to the poles of the planet, right? So why don’t they go look for it instead of staying in sight of the Ark, where they know they will never be welcome? Some of their people, the Seachrani or “Seawolves”, sail the great ocean that seems to cover the majority of the planet, much like Earth. They discovered a sunken city, the Cove, which they made their home. They also discovered other land, thought from its description it sounds about as barren as the Badlands. Still, even deserts have oasis. All the moisture that must go up into the atmosphere from the sun beating down relentlessly on the ocean has to condense and rain down somewhere, right? I am at a loss as to why the people seem satisfied to sit there and stare at the Ark, rather than go and seek out a new future.

Crane’s writing leaves a bit to be desired. There was one line that made the English Literature Major in me come out. Crane said that Major Carter’s voice was “tense but calm.” I’m sorry, but “tense” and “calm” are opposites! One can only be one or the other, but not both! I know what Crane is trying to say, but she did not use the proper terms.

Description is sometimes lacking as well. SG-1 spends the entirety of the book searching for a device, the Scaith De, which translated means “Shield of the Gods”. Places, people, and things are described in great detail, making it fairly easy for the reader to envision them. However, when the Scaith De is found at long last, the description of it is extremely lacking, and rather anticlimactic.

Characterization – by that I mean how closely the characters actually act as we expect them to given how well we know them from the series – is very good, though occasionally Sam Carter sounds a bit more like Jack O’Neill. Sam isn’t usually given to swearing, no matter how much of a jerk the bad guy is. The fact that Sam didn’t sound entirely like herself at times tells me that Crane wasn’t entirely sure about how she would react to the situation at times, and so allowed her to be more angry and emotional than fans know her to be. Crane does an excellent job of getting inside Teal’c’s head, however. For a character who is so hard to read, Crane developed Teal’c’s view of the situation in as much detail as any fan could wish for and much more.

Crane created a wonderful array of original characters. It’s not often that you find new characters in these books that are so well developed that you really care about them and their welfare. Mostly the focus remains on SG-1 and whether or not they will make it out alive. This time SG-1 was never in trouble by themselves. They always shared their fate with those around them, and in time the needs of those people superseded their own. Not only did it lend well to the plot, it also was a refreshing change in the pattern of the novels.

Overall, Sunrise was a really very interesting story that uses some rather weak ploys to create conflict for SG-1. Their memories of their experiences with the memory stamps in “Beneath the Surface” are used in an attempt to make it harder for SG-1 to make the right call in this new situation, that being to help the people of the Badlands in their struggle for survival despite the fact that it’s not what they came for. How well it worked is debatable, but this reader was not impressed. I was also not impressed with how the authors failed to make full use of the cultural history they chose to take their characters from. There is so much potential in the Celtic origins, but instead they fell back on more familiar examples on which to base the society and religion of the planet.

I award Stargate SG-1: Sunrise 3 wagons for a fascinating story with a lot of lost potential.

Get your red hot copy of Sunrise from your local bookstore or direct from the Fandemonium website!

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One Comment

  1. FranMackeNo Gravatar April 12, 2011 at 8:19 am - Reply

    I like watching this series! Why not read it!

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