Oceans of Dust by Peter J. Evans is the 19th book in the long running Stargate SG-1 series by Fandemonium. Like all the books they have published, I got my hands on it quickly and devoured it like the starved Stargate fan that I am. In this adventure, something long buried in Egypt is found by a team of unsuspecting archaeologists. It is terrifying, deadly, uncontrollable, and coveted by a Goa’uld who would use it to cause death and destruction. As if things couldn’t get worse, Teal’c and Major Sam Carter are trapped in the deadly creature’s prison.
Throughout the whole book I was looking for continuity errors, as is my habit. I am pleased to say I only found one. While contemplating a crashed Tel’tak, Jack O’Neill starts to compare it to an Al’kesh. The problem is that these events took place before ‘Crossroads’, which puts them well before the events of ‘Exodus’ where SG-1 encounters their first Al’kesh and Teal’c has to explain that it is a mid-range bomber. Of all the errors this book could have made, this is very easy to overlook.
There were some characterization flaws that I was not terribly impressed with. Jack O’Neill does not say “Dude.” Not once have we heard him say it in over ten years, and considering he hesitated to say “groovey” in ‘1969’, I don’t think any circumstances would inspire Jack to call anyone “dude”. By that same rule, after Sam and Teal’c first go missing, Jack is found standing outside Cheyenne Mountain looking up at the sky, uncharacteristically stressed out. Granted these events closely follow ‘Upgrades’ where Jack and Sam finally realize just how much they care about one another. Still, it surprised me to no end when Jack said to Daniel, “I can’t loose them, Daniel. Either of them.” Unlike Daniel, Jack does not wear his heart on his sleeve by any means. He is far more likely to fall into a brooding silence in this situation than he is to speak this way, allowing his fear to hide behind a front of frustration.
There was also some shtick between Jack and Daniel on several occasions that just didn’t ring true to me. We all know how Jack likes to antagonize his captors, and generally the rest of the team just stays out of it, maybe throwing a few disapproving glances that Jack promptly ignores. In Oceans of Dust Daniel plays a long a lot more than I would expect him to given the timeline of events compared to the series. He also uses phrases that I wouldn’t expect, like when he says to Jack, “We’ve got a map and a ride. We’re golden.” At times it felt like we were dealing with a season 7+ Daniel, not season 4, if you know what I mean.
The characterization error that really got my goat was also Daniel related. In Oceans of Dust, Evans would have you believe that Daniel is very uncomfortable on an airplane. Embarrassingly uncomfortable. As an author I know it is easy to pick on Daniel. Even though he is my favorite team member I have to admit that there is something fun about putting him in rough situations, and potentially whumping him a bit. However, I take offense at authors who go out of their way to make Daniel look like a wuss. We don’t have a shred of evidence from the series that would suggest that Daniel hates flying. We know he doesn’t like heights, but he copes with it without complaint when he has to (‘Thor’s Chariot’). The one time we see him on a C130, it wasn’t the flight that scared him. It was the jump out of the plane, which he also did without complaint (‘Watergate’). If he was that uncomfortable on a plane would he have flown from Colorado to Chicago and back again twice and then to Egypt during the course of events in ‘The Curse’? I don’t think so! Evans just decided that someone on the plane needed to have something to do, and since the others couldn’t possibly be affected by a little turbulence, Daniel became the target. Honestly I think Evans could have come up with another way of expanding on that scene.
Despite the fact that he is pictured on the cover, Bra’tac is heartbreakingly underused in this book. He is there at the beginning, then he goes off on his own mission. Then he returns to give SG-1 a ride, and then when they get there he disappears only to turn up again at the final battle. There were few chances to see the aspects of the character that we love: his wisdom, his wit, and his sly battle tactics. He literally played a supporting role, and I was bitterly disappointed. His role was absolutely necessary though. If you separate Jack and Daniel from Sam and Teal’c, you basically have the half of the team that can come up with a good strategy or talk their way out of trouble, but are unable to execute the technical aspects because the half with the understanding of Goa’uld technology isn’t there. Daniel can read Goa’uld, but as he says perhaps a few too many times, “Sam is the astrophysicist.” Without Bra’tac there to fill that gap, Jack and Daniel would have been literally up a creek without a paddle.
There were definitely aspects of this book that I enjoyed. It makes better use of the Stargate feature film than any other novel out there to date. For instance, remember how different Ra’s ship was from the Ha’taks was see in the series? We finally get to see another ship like that, and we get a bit of an explanation as to why it is so different. We also get to meet two new Goa’uld, Neheb-Kau of Egyptian mythology, and Hera of the Greek Pantheon. This also is in keeping with the roots of the series. Mythology is one of my weaknesses, so it was fun to go back to the Egyptian roots of the series that hooked me so long ago, and also build on the Greek sect of the Goa’uld that began with Cronus.
While sometimes you have to take literary liberties in order to make a story work, pushing details with no basis bugs me. In this case it’s something that the series kind of over looked, something that should probably have been explored and explained. But since it wasn’t, I have a hard time with authors who try to take it on themselves to address the flaw in the series. Evans takes great pains to describe Hera’s Ha’tak as a columned structure of Greek design. Yes, it does make sense that Hera’s Ha’tak should not be Egyptian in style like those of Ra, Apophis, and Heru’er. However, at the same time there has been evidence in the series that all Goa’uld do have ships of a pyramid shape, regardless of what god they are impersonating. We see Nirrti’s Ha’tak in season 1’s ‘Singularity’, and it was no different from any other we saw later in the series, but Nirrti is the Hindu goddess of destruction. Likewise when we see Cronus’s Ha’tak in ‘Double Jeopardy’, it was still of Egyptian design, not Greek. While I get why Evans tried to make Hera’s ship fit her historical background, it has no precedence in the series and I can’t buy into it for that reason. That and the design described seemed too detailed and ornate to be practical on a vehicle designed for battle and faster-than-light travel!
Depite the flaws, the story was engaging and original. In many ways it was darker than many of the more recent Fandemonium novels, bringing a true sense of horror with it that suscessfully propelled the story. The pace of the plot was very good, though as aforementioned, Bra’tac’s involvment in the story was little more than a plot device. His comings and goings were a hiccup in the flow of events that the story really could have done without. I enjoyed the book, but it doesn’t make my list of favorites.