A Place Beyond Man (The Archives of Varok) by Cary Neeper – review

By on March 26, 2012

Alien encounters with man, and woman, have been one of SF’s most popular topics and themes from the very beginning of the genre. What would happen, how will people/aliens react, when meeting each other for the first time? Though the theme has been utilized by many authors, their are still riches to be mined from it. Each author brings his/her slant to the theme. Cary Neeper’s excellent A Place Beyond Man (The Archives of Varok) takes this basic theme and makes it into a cautionary tale of what might befall the Earth if we don’t change our ways and become less wasteful. The message never becomes too preachy or detracts from the flow of the plot, but it is nevertheless there in the background.

There are two alien species in the novel that make contact with humans. The amphibious ells and the humanoid varoks have been studying the Earth for a very long time, and each has debated when and where contact with a human should occur, and under what cirucmstances, if any. We’re introduced right from the beginning to the very personable main ell of the novel, Conn (from the dark watery planet Ellason), though we also read a mention of the Varoks, who live closer to the Earth.

Conn selects a likely human to introduce himself to, hoping that the encounter will go well. That woman is biologist Tandra Grey, and she has a daughter, Shawne, who I’ve read was not in the original version of this novel when it was first published thirty years ago. Shawne is an integral character in the version I read, though. Conn attempts to find the best time and place to speak to Tandra, which happens to be at a costume party Tandra’s attending that very night. Grey is intrigued by the “person” she meets, not realizing at first that she is conversing with an alien in a varokian environmental suit. He resembles a cross between a spaceman and a skindiver to her and the other party-goers there.

Conn has chosen a great place to meet Tandra. With his varokian suit on, he fits in, since everyone is in costumes. Also, since Tandra’s colleagues are there, the philosophical/scientific discussion she and Conn engage in seems natural under the circumstances. The two hit it off well, and Conn even demonstrates his knowledge of humanity by dancing with Tandra. Of course, there are complications…no one ever said the course of true love ran smoothly.

Love? Yes, I said it; their mutual attraction results in a developing love, though they come from very different backgrounds and worlds.

Also, the author introduces a theme that runs through the novel, and the sequel that will be released in June, The Webs of Varok: steady state economics. Without getting into the details, some of what steady state economics involves is no-growth economics and sustainability. The Earth and humanity can’t keep on with their same old ways of behaving and thinking about economics and ideas of progress without severely damaging or destroying the planet. But will Conn’s warning be heeded, or will humanity keep on headed down the same path of destruction?

A Place Beyond Man is a cautionary tale that should stir a lot of controversy and debate. The Earth has limited resources, and how the dwindling supplies are used will determine mankind’s fate. It’s more than a little ironic that we are all using the wonders of technology and have become dependent on them, like the computer I’m sitting at typing this review. It’s one thing to know that sustainability and steady state economics are necessary for humanity to survive, but it’s another to put those ideas into daily practice.

The friendship and romance that develops between Tandra and Conn are fascinating to read about, as are the many difficulties their relationship encounters. I really enjoyed reading A Place Beyond Man, and I am looking forawrd to reading The Webs of Varok. Cary Neeper is a very talented author. I highly recommend this novel to anyone who loves great science fiction.

About Douglas Cobb

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