Book Review: The Darkling
Book Reviewed by Robert Fleming
This debut novel, by Keoni Anderson, has all of the earmarks of one of the pulps from the golden age of science fiction, with Henry, the fresh-scrubbed California high school student, at the center of a nasty alien race war. All Henry wants to do is to better his hardscabble life and gain admittance to a good school. Those admirable plans are detailed when he finds alien artifacts and gets involved with two space travelers, Mor Ray and Sofa Re.
Old school writers of the genre like Pohl, Asmov, Lieber, and van Vogt would have made everything bland and vanilla, but not Anderson, who provides some soulful flavor to this space opera much like sci-fi pioneers Samuel Delany or Octavia Butler would do. He makes it funky, exciting and fresh.
Anderson's creation is, in a sense, an exceptional space morality play with a classic good guy-bad guy face-off. It features its hero, Sofa Re, and its villian, Mor Ray, locked in bitter conflict. Their strategic chess match over the control of the Darkling, an alien creature which the government wants for further study, has some very dramatic moments. Often, the Darkling steals several scenes with its intriguing extraterrestial back story and supernatural abilities.
Anderson can write, Anderson can conjure, Anderson can dazzle. Here Anderson uses the favored language of the old sci-fi masters to create the back story of the alien saga: "Sofa Re became the Darkling's protector. People sought to force Sofa Re to use the Darklings for experiments. Sofa Re could make sure the Darklings wouldn't die from the experiment. They wanted the fluid the Darklings could create. Also, they wanted to see if they could super soldiers." A feasible back story in a drama like this one is so important to fuel the conflicts and challenges of the primary plot.
However, the main focus belongs to Henry, whose innocence is altered from the moment of his first encounter with Sofa Re and the Darkling. He is changed not only mentally but physically when he becomes host to the alien, and his petty concerns fall away with the sheer importance of the earth's survival. Spike, Curly, and Goldmine, as characters, add a ghetto roughneck feel to the events, but they are only spicy seasoning to the main course. While Spike has a mother, who he admits she is "a crack ho," Henry has an adoring, supporting mother. Anderson is very careful to let Henry's characteristic good values and instincts rise above the mayhem around him.
And there is a lot of blood and gore. Lots of action and explosions. Wisely, Anderson provides a series of lulls between the series of clashes to allow the readers to acquaint themselves with the major characters and the supporting cast. When the minions of Mor Ray and Sofa Re clash, the civilians and police are always caught in the middle. The author know how to build tension and suspense. However, there is a glorious mix of the old and new, a blend of hardcore sci-fi ingredients and the contemporary Earth-bound locales, all designed to entice interest to get to the book's thrilling conclusion.
Written in a very visual, engaging style, The Darkling has something for everybody who enjoys the pleasures of a solid science fiction novels, with extraterrestials, time travel, some apocalyptic touches, anti-government sentiment, and heroes and villains. Like all entertaining books in this genre, it possesses an electric spark to its story and effective writing. Wonder what Anderson will do for a literary encore.