THIS STORY TAKES
PLACE BETWEEN THE
NOVELS "THE JANUS
OFFICIAL BBC 'EIGHTH
RELEASED IN NOVEMBER
The people of Belannia
II see their sun, Bel,
shrouded in night for
a month following an
triple eclipse. When
Bel returnS to them
a younger, brighter,
hotter star, it is the
beginning of the end
for the entire solar
I’m surprised that Beltempest was released so soon after The Janus Conjunction, a novel with which it has much in common; at least, superficially. Most patently, both books deal with colossal cosmic events – mind-blowingly big cosmic events – and their effects on people. What sets the two apart though is that Beltempest is a masochistically compelling read, as opposed to a test of endurance.
Put briefly, Beltempest is a macrocosmic disaster movie in print. The luxury of prose allows author Jim Mortimore to neatly circumvent the budgetary constraints that even a Hollywood blockbuster would have to face, bringing us a tale that sees the entire Bel star system ripped apart as the creature gestating inside it prepares to enter the universe.
One of the things that impressed me most about Beltempest was, ironically, one for which it has been heavily criticised for in the past. Here Mortimore employs what I’d call a ‘snapshot’ approach, bombarding his reader with short, sharp shots of perspective from a wide array
of different characters. This device helps him to get across the sheer magnitude of the epic events that he is trying to portray, and do so memorably, I feel. Detached descriptions of the system being torn asunder would no doubt have been daunting in an impersonal sort of way, but reading about a starship’s Doctor struggling to carry out delicate surgery as her sickbay crumbles around her; about the Doctor using clothes to desperately try and plug holes in a ship’s hull; and about Sam facing death time and again, on the other hand, sucks the reader right into the heart of many of the ‘tiny’ disasters that comprise whole.
The downside, inevitably, is that we don’t
really get to grips with many of the book’s
supporting characters – we are with them
for only the briefest of periods during
which they face the most desperate of
circumstances. This is more than made
up for though by Mortimore’s fascinating
handling of Sam Jones, who tears through
Beltempest like the proverbial Oncoming
Storm, stumbling from one near-death experience to the next, almost every one of which is brought about by her own ‘Doctorish’ attempts to save those who don’t even want salvation. In fact, Sam is so proactive in this story that the Doctor himself feels like a passenger.
All the same, I found some aspects of Beltempest to be far less inspiring. The whole Eldred Saketh “green eggs and ham” spiritual sub-plot is downright wacky, and its resolution even wackier still. A ‘Doctorish’ Sam I can handle; an immortal one, on the other hand…
Taken as a whole though, Beltempest is a splendid example of Mortimore’s typically heavy science fiction - 250-odd pages of scope, grandeur, grit and grime. Much to my surprise, I really quite liked it, but whether I’d recommend it or not is another matter entirely…
Copyright © E.G. Wolverson 2010
E.G. Wolverson has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988 to be identified as the author of this work.
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