The Thunder Child

Science Fiction and Fantasy
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Vol 1, Issue #10
"Stand By For Mars!"
October 2006

The Thunder Child Book Reviews
by Ryan Brennan

What Fire Cannot Burn
John Ridley
Warner Books

What Fire Cannot Burn is a sequel to Those Who Walk in Darkness, both by John Ridley. Ridley has penned several novels, one of which became Oliver Stone's U-Turn, and writes for both TV and film. It should be no surprise that this science fiction adventure is extremely visual and exhibits a flair for the big action set pieces.

It's L.A. in the near future. Genetic mutations have led to a new breed of human being -- Metanormals. These seemingly ordinary people, each with a single unusual super ability such as enormous strength, mind reading, morphing, firestarting, or invulnerabilty, among other talents.

In the beginning, the Metanormals are a benefit to society, fighting crime to such an extent that local police forces nearly become a redundancy, left with the mundane task of writing parking tickets. When two Metas go up against each other, though, destroying nearly half of San Francisco and killing 600,000 people, the Age of Heroes is over.

Metanormals are labelled "freaks," the nomenclature used by those, like Soledad O'Roarke, who hunt them down. Soledad commands an elite MTac element, a small tactical force trained to capture or kill the freaks. Most often they are forced to kill their quarry.

This is a calling so dangerous that few members of an element survive beyond a handful of missions. Soledad's life is narrowly focused on doing her job and keeping herself and her element alive -- to the exclusion of a life or relationships outside of work. After a mission goes bad, her own injuries sidelining her, self-doubt enters Soledad's mind and propels her on another mission of equal danger.

Ridley's story overlaps somewhat with X-Men universe, playing out like a later development in that famous comic book and movie series. But it also brings to mind other tough-minded, physical women in militaristic, science fiction or adventure settings like the character Ridley from Alien, and it's sequels, or the videogame heroine Lara Croft.

Soledad is such a strong, interesting character, one who develops and grows. It would have been welcome to see her further evolve as she deals with the personal and political aspects of her work, especially in relation to a younger female recruit, Eddi, who idolizes her.

The story takes a left turn about midway through when a mystery plot takes over concentrating attention on Eddi. Fans of Soledad may be upset when the spotlight shifts, but Eddi is a very similar character and in spirit is much like Soledad.

Ridley uses one, one literary trick over and over. This trick, this trick mimics real life speaking. Since a writer's job is to create an illusion of reality, in literature this trick should be to emphasize, to emphasize something of importance, not thrown away uselessly. If you can't guess what this trick may be, just repeat, repeat this paragraph.

It is interesting to speculate where this series will go from here it it continues. A good-sized chunk of the first novel is included as an extra at the end of the book.

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