Ill Wind by Beason, D. & Anderson, K., 1995

Ill Wind by Beason, D. & Anderson, K. - Book cover from

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As we all know, the Dune prequels and sequels are not Kevin J. Anderson's first crack at co-authorship. Neither is Ill Wind, but Mr. Anderson and Doug Beason do, in my opinion, a much better job with this one than Anderson and Herbert do with the current crop of Dune books. Two stars out of five.

Ill Wind is the story of a catastrophic oil spill clean up gone horribly wrong, and the subsequent damage that occurred as the world falls apart from a completely unexpected and catastrophic side effect of the cure for the spill. This is, in short, its a man-made ecological disaster novel. In it the captain of the Oilstar Zoroaster was waylaid off the Golden Gate Bridge by a criminal crew member on his ship at a critical point as it threaded the mouth of the Golden Gate. The ship struck the south pier, opened up wide, and eventually sunk, releasing upwards of 50 million gallons of crude Alaskan oil into the San Francisco Bay. As this spill was in a heavily populated area the public outcry was immediate. Oilstar suggested a bacteria that one of their scientists, Alex Kramer had invented to eat up refuse of petroleum based products, such as Styrofoam. Kramer testified at a hearing before deployment that the organism was a re-engineering of natural bacteria derived from undersea pockets of hot gas, and that they would eat the octane in the crude and die once the fuel was digested. In point of fact, Kramer was a wild card who had recently suffered two accidents which took the lives of his two children and wife, and then was diagnosed with terminal and painful cancer. Kramer wanted revenge on the world, and lied about the characteristics of the microorganism. Instead of dying after the octane was eaten up, it started digesting any oil derived product, then it went airborne and spread outside the San Francisco. Before the destruction ended almost every modern product that we rely on, save for natural rubber and for some reason PVC had dissolved. Worldwide transportation, communication, military, retail, virtually every industry stopped then took a giant step backwards to the stone age. But unlike S.M. Stirling's Dies the Fire, which was about how society retooled and retrained itself to survive in a changed world, this book was about how science was going to fix things. Electrical power and a semi-lifestyle were eventually restored by the launching of a series of solar beam satellites that beamed power down to a receiving station using satellites that been sealed from the bacteria launched on a rail-gun. But before that could be done the equipment necessary to do so had to be taken from a semi-rogue general in Albuquerque acting under martial law orders from an insane third-string president.

If I'm going to laud this tale at all, its for the same reasons that Hunters of Dune gets any praise from me. The action sequences are pretty well done, and the plot is adequate. The characters fit well within the niches that the authors made for them, but they were very rudimentary extractions from the Id. For example, there was a horny oversexed congressman who only thought of getting laid. A reclusive savior who fought personal demons, seemingly with the intention of saving us all, but wound up stabbing us in the back because of his personal pain. An ancient CEO who always had the last word and only cared about PR, not doing the right job correctly. A public interest lawyer with a heart of gold, a beautiful wife and a flair for the dramatic which helped him win cases, who lived on the verge of poverty to be near his charges. A hippie commune member who couldn't think straight but spouted words of wisdom by accident. A careless petty thief who could not control his urges for money and sex and who screwed up everything he touched, even if he was not trying to. And an "aw shucks" farm boy who set his mind to a task and always succeeded even if he did not know entirely what he is doing, and who hooks up with a plucky, flirty Asian woman who pushes his buttons until neither of them can withstand the teasing. Anderson also seems to have a penchant for creating characters that are headstrong and entirely too sure of themselves that get into trouble constantly from misinterpreting the facts, then being too stubborn to listen to anyone else. And none of them seem to be able to roll with any punches they take. They just keep doggedly pushing and pushing for what they wanted earlier, without any re-evaluation or self-examination. In short, they are all quite flat, and never mature out of the problems that their earlier actions cause.

The science was a little lacking in this book too. This obviously was not an attempt at a hard SF book, but a little explanation about how a microbe can evolve that fast would have been nice. Also, once the authors started with one character, they kept coming back again and again, even though that characters usefulness had run out long before. For example, the criminal that caused the disaster in the first place kept popping up again and again, causing more and more trouble. If this was a Niven & Pournelle book, for example, they would have had that nobody character disappear into the woodwork after the initial disaster, and let events unfold without him or her. And to me, that would have been much more believable and desirable.

I really approached this book with an open mind. I personally cannot stand the new Dune books, and will never give them any space on my bookshelf. And Anderson's Seven Suns not only is way too big a commitment for an author I personally don't trust to tell a good tale, but seems to be a throw back to Space Opera that I think I can do without. And I have never read one single Star Wars or X-Files novel, and certainly don't intend to start now. I have to say though, this was a page turner. I finished it in just two readings, which is a lot for me, especially considering that at approximately 375 pages, its no light-weight. I did enjoy the action, but never really came to really like or identify with any of the characters. On top of that, this book really offers nothing new to the disaster novel-genre that hasn't been done before with a different kind of disaster. And by that I mean the from a literary standpoint, this book just does not measure up the the cream of the crop. However, if you are looking for a KJA novel that you may actually enjoy, this one may suffice. I'm only keeping it for now, though, because hes passing through Sacramento shortly and I'm going to have him autograph it. It will be worth more when I sell it.

Copyright 2007, Gregory Tidwell

Reviewed by GTT · Rating Rating of 2 star(s)


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