Volume 15, Number 02, Spring, 1997

Wildside

By Steven Gould

(TOR, 1996, $5.99, 316 pp, pb).
Cover by Nicholas Jainschigg
Reviewed by Anders Monsen
April, 1997

For sure pure reading pleasure few books will match this tale of adventure. Elements of Vernor Vinge and Robert Heinlein came to mind as I read Gould’s novel, riveted by the story-line.

Charlie Newell is on the edge of finishing high school when he lets four close friends in on a secret. A big secret. On a farm that his uncle left him he discovered a tunnel to a different world, or rather, to a parallel world where man never walked the earth, and extinct and present day animals roam the plains.

After Charlie finances their project by mailing passenger pigeons—extinct in our world for nearly a century—to select nature groups and zoos, they begin an elaborate scheme to shift resources into this world without attracting attention from their parents or the government.

Charlie and his four friends—paired off at the outset with Marie and Joey, Rick and Clara—launch an intensive summer of flight training and skydiving to prepare them for the “wildside,” as they call the world beyond the tunnel.

Simultaneously they buy a pair of light aircraft that they can breakdown and take to the wildside, and construct an airfield. Their planning is meticulous, and they always are armed to the teeth against the threats of wolves, mountain lions, and sabertooths.

Once their training is complete, Charlie’s goal is for them to mine gold in the Rockies, and finance the rest of their futures from the haul. Their efforts never falter, but along the way they meet with several personal problems, all which render the characters very sympathetic. Joey, the brash youngster, must confront a severe drinking problem that almost eliminates him from the group. Charlie, as the glue that holds the five together, watches Joey and Marie’s love with loosely guarded jealousy, for he still loves Marie. The most surprising revelation results from Rick and Clara’s relationship, and the consequences that affect Charlie.

Although their explorations move forward, and the gold mining becomes a success, Charlie all along has planned for their eventual discovery by the feds. It is then no surprise when this happens, and the last third of the book deals with the edgy standoff between the government forces, and the five friends and their few cohorts on the outside.

Libertarians at this point might find their interest level rise, but the political statements are only slightly more explicit than in the movie ET. At one point a reference is made to the events at Waco by our protagonists, who compare how the nasty government forces react towards Charlie’s gateway into the parallel world, with the siege a short while ago and further north—the events take place slightly outside College Station, in Texas.

Wildside is a book filled with sharp details, and the narration is crisp, told from Charlie’s perspective in a very personal and direct manner. This is one of those books where you care immensely for the characters, and they become more important than whatever scientific explanations govern the gateway. I haven’t had such a fun read in a long time. Gould manages to refresh the reader’s enjoyment of science fiction, and writes a rollicking good story. The inside cover lists another novel published by TOR, Jumper, which I definitely intend to pick up right away. Gould is a writer to watch for in the future.

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