Volume 15, Number 04, Fall, 1997

In the Shadow of Omen

By Steven Burgauer

(zero-g press, 1997, $14.95, 364pp, tpb). Cover art by Victoria Claudin.
Reviewed by Anders Monsen
September 1997

Mars will always remain a hot topic in sf. Unlike the Moon, it is probably likely that human colonists could live on Mars and maybe even use the plant's resources to build sustainable communities. Steven Burgauer's latest novel, the fourth book in a series on the Matthews family, shuttles back and forth between new settlements on Mars and a decaying, totalitarian Earth. It handles itself well as a standalone book, and no prior knowledge is required of the other books.

Carina Matthews and her father Sam Matthews, along with explorer and inventor Fornax Nehrengel, are the main focus of the book. Carina, quite headstrong and stubborn, views herself as the Eve of a new species of mankind. She is determined to give birth to a special new child, the first in its kind. Sam, on the other hand, is quite an idealist, and hopes to populate Mars with new settlers, the poor, tired, huddled masses of earth.

Mars by now is partially terraformed, and the air breathable. Rough camps spring up, composed of settlers and miners from Earth. Naturally, conflict ensues when some of the Martians believe they can govern themselves free from the restrictions imposed upon them from Earth.

However, Martian liberation in Burgauer's book is more a subplot than the actual focal point. Rather, we follow Carina Matthews' quest to create her newhuman race. Carina gives birth to a son, as she planned. However, the father, BC, kidnaps the child when he discovers Carina used him to fuse his superior DNA with her own. BC takes their son back to Earth and hides him. Carina's quest to seed a new race blinds her to the feelings of others, and robs her of her child. It isolates her from her father and fellow colonists, both emotionally and socially. When Sam Matthews reveals he is dying from a hereditary disease, Carina heads back to Earth in search of a cure. There she is captured by the totalitarian government who accuse her as the ringleader of the rebellion on Mars.

The libertarian elements are mild and understated. Shadow of Omen (The title derives from a local name for Olympus Mons. the massive mountain on Mars several times larger than Earth's Mount Everest) is not a novel about the liberation of Mars. Rather, the characters are the story. Carina is a headstrong, willful person, and quite capable of getting herself into rough spots. Her faith in her self and her destiny is at times her own undoing. Her father, the far calmer Sam Matthews, comes across as a little weak, but that may just be because Carina is such a vibrant force he never really can measure up to her.

My qualms about this novel come not from the story itself, but from the way in which it is presented. The narrative style slugs the reader with encyclopedia-sized bits of information. Burgauer might have tried to weave the information into the narrative instead of presenting it in educational formats. Statements about what is about to happen, and excessive use of exclamation marks, also detract from what otherwise is a powerful story.

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