Volume 24, Number 2, Winter, 2006


By Michael L. Wentz

Novalibre, 2005, $27.95
ISBN: 978-097679732-6
Reviewed by Anders Monsen

Three teenagers embark on an unintended interplanetary adventure of epic proportions in Michael L. Wentz’s debut novel, Resurrection of Liberty. In the process, they learn of their untapped talents, hidden family history, and face an interstellar menace only temporarily resolved at the end of this enjoyable science fiction adventure that harkens back to the golden age of sf.

Ever since he was a young boy, Dan Foster looked up to his grandfather. After the death of his grandfather followed a few years later by his grandmother’s death, the now sixteen-year-old Dan travels with his parents to her funeral in Albany. Growing up, Dan had always sensed that other people held great respect for his grandfather, whose commanding presence was matched only by his secretive nature and distaste for bugs. When Dan was four, his grandfather had returned home with a sharp-looking Cadillac Fleetwood. Covered with grime from years in the garage, Dan still covets this car as much as he did a dozen years ago. As none of the adults seem to want the car, Dan ask for it, and to his great joy and surprise finds no objection.

After getting the car running again, Dan sets out for a weekend trip to the lake a couple of months later with his two best friends from school, Tom and Janet. All three are bright students, with independent streaks of nature and inquisitive minds. They met while on a school field trip to Washington, where each one deviated from the planned agenda just to sneak into the Smithsonian to explore their own interests in science. Several hours of detention later and they were inseparable. On the drive up to the lake, as they’re fiddling with the antique tape deck in the car, the radio begins to emit instructions in a foreign language. At the same time, and despite all attempts to prevent what’s going on, the car morphs into a flying vehicle and takes to the air. Moments later they are high above the ground, then in the blackness of space, heading towards the moon.

In fact, the trio is not headed to the moon, but an area of space behind the dark side of the moon, where a massive ship appears in front of them. Bearing apparent battle scars and hanging lifeless in space, this ship must have been here a long time, undetected. They figure out this must be the main space ship, and their converted car some sort of shuttle on automatic pilot. After docking, Dan and his friends make their way to what they determine is the bridge, hoping to find some way to return to Earth. Instead, other alien vessels appear as if from nowhere and begin firing on their ship. Through luck and sheer gumption the trio manage to escape, but they know the clock is ticking: they need to discover more about their ship and quick, as in all likelihood the aliens will return.

What they discover is a world beyond their wildest dreams, and when they start to understand where they are—aboard a spaceship called Liberty, from a distant world, and captained here by Dan’s grandfather on a risky yet vital mission—we know and they know that there’s no turning back. Michael Wentz’ novel hurtles the reader along for the ride, as we follow the teenagers across the galaxy to the origin of the starship Liberty, and the siege under which they find its creators. When they find out that the insect like race bent on exterminating those people probably also will target Earth, prospects look grim. But the plucky friends refuse to lay down arms, and embark once more back to their home planet to take on the invaders.

Back on Earth, the government knows something is amiss when they detect on radar the alien ships that attacked the Liberty, and which casually destroy an escape pod from Earth’s orbiting space platform. Wentz skillfully sketches the typical government bunker-like reaction, yet also the brave actions of those responsible for the remaining astronauts on the space station.

Some older readers might wonder at how three 16-year-old kids can manage to pilot an alien space ship across space, take on a powerful non-human war-like race and survive. There were times that also crossed my mind. And yet, kids are resilient, inquisitive, and in tough situations tend not to give up that easily. As James P. Hogan writes in one of his essays in his 2005 collection, Catastrophes, Chaos, and Convolution (BAEN):

“[T]he world needs teenagers. Those gangly frames, splayed limbs, and toothy grins that we used to think of as assemblages of left-overs from the Creation with no practical use turn out to be indispensable to our survival. What is mindless irritation for us, becomes for the kids a boundless source of the delights of meeting challenge, demonstrating competence and virtuosity, and savoring the heady taste of achievement.”

Much like the early stories of Robert A. Heinlein, such as Red Planet, Rocket Ship Galileo, Space Cadet, Farmer in the Sky, and L. Neil Smith’s Brightsuit MacBear and Tyflak Lysandra, as well as several other classic works of science fiction, Resurrection of Liberty gives us a thrilling story about kids who never give up in the face of danger and uncertainty. The writing style is straight-forward and smooth-flowing. Here’s a book you can cheer for, with likable characters, quickly plotted, and deserving of wide attention. This is the kind of novel that opens doors to science fiction among readers young and old.

As Dan, Tom, and Janet encounter the human like-beings from the other planet who built the Liberty, they are treated with respect far beyond their years. Part of this respect is driven by the fact that his grandfather piloted the ship to Earth, and many of the people they meet served with or knew Dan’s grandfather. Yet compared to the reactions of people in charge on Earth who deal with adults in that subplot, the non-earth humans (for lack of a better) term, display a greater ease with intelligence. Instead of the line-of-command driven society of the government and space program on Earth, Dan and his friends find assistance far easier on an alien world than had they arrived unheralded on our home planet. It helped that they arrived in the long-lost ship Liberty, and that in their first encounter with the people who made that ship they destroy the invading bug-like alien ships. But over-all, this society seems more free and open than current Earth society.

While the novel fails to answer two main questions (why did Dan’s grandfather and his crew never reveal themselves if they knew the aliens one day would look to invade Earth, and how will people from both worlds defend themselves against the insurmountable power of the bug-like aliens), the story satisfies on so many other levels.

The field of sf needs novels like this, which breathes passion for its subject. Perhaps as a result of being a first novel, some of the characters seem at times stereotypical. The young friends do break down too much into hysteric yelling, but that’s part of being a teenager, too. The ending itself leaves openings for future novels in the same universe, and it will be interesting to see if Wentz follows Resurrection of Liberty with a sequel. I found this book to be one of the more enjoyable novels I've read in a long time, and kept thinking about pulling out those old Heinlein books again to relive the emotions of my early days as an sf fan.

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