Volume 25, Number 01, Fall, 2007

Paragaea

By Chris Roberson

Pyr Books, 2006, $15.00
Reviewed by Anders Monsen
November 2007

Action adventure fantasy novels are quite rare these days. For the most part we see massive multi-part books with royalty and magic. Planetary romances (in the traditional, not Harlequin, sense) are quite rare. I grew up reading the wildly epic tales of Edgar Rice Burroughs (ERB) and Fritz Lieber, and later relived the same in some of Jack Vance’s tales (especially the four-book series Planet of Adventure—City of the Chasch, Servants of the Wankh, The Dirdir, The Pnume—all of which I have read multiple times), and Michael Shea’s Nifft the Lean novels. Along comes Chris Roberson, one of the newer voices in sf, with his homage to the days of yore. Roberson’s Paragaea gives a nod specifically to ERB in the dedication and bears many similarities to that master of rough adventure on alien worlds. In the lands of Paragaea as on ERB’s Barsoom and Pellucidar, the protagonists find themselves transported by unknown means to a faraway place, where human-like beasts live and breathe alongside other humans. Friendships are forged, quests are declared and pursued, and new wonders line every page alongside a staccato-like rush of cliffhangers.

Paragaea steadfastly follows this format. A female Soviet Cosmonaut in the early 1960s, Akilina Chirikov, the second woman in space, finds herself hurtled back to Earth after colliding with a strange, silvery object in space. In a dizzying sequence of events she stabilizes her capsule, crashes, falls into a river while strapped to her seat, and is captured by a band of jaguar-like humanoid beasts. Her captivity does not last long, as another jaguar-man and a human leap into the camp and kill or chase away her captors. They are Hieronymous Bonaventure, a British sailor from the 19th century, and Balam, a prince in exile. The three forge a swift and strong bond, and embark on a quest to find the creators of the strange disks that operate as doorways between worlds, and find a way to return Akilina to her time.

From this point forward the trio strive toward their goal, encountering one adventure after another. Their journey circumnavigates the single land mass of Paragaea, by land, air, and sea across a massive inland ocean. They encounter strange beasts and flora, battle mechanical monsters and encounter a vast array of cultures. The trio expands to four then six, and gradually down to the original three. Will they reach their goal, and at what cost? For in their travels this band of brothers (and sister) seems to grow almost inseparable.

Roberson writes adventure well, although the constant rush of cliffhangers and life and death situations gives little pause for the characters to rest. Although the characters encounter strange societies, these are too swiftly sketched out. It seems that the characters must encounter virtually every group or society in Paragaea, a vast world indeed, to reach their goal, and basically take the longest possible route. The novel leaves plenty of room for sequels, and should Roberson venture back to this world perhaps he’ll slow down the pace just a little, focus more deeply on certain areas, and not cover everything at once. But if you like adventure, it’s hard to go wrong with this yarn.

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