Saturday, February 14, 2015

Carico Trails (Nan C. Ballard)

Carico Trails
(A Beyonders novel, Volume 1)
Nan C. Ballard
Fiction, Sci-Fi
*** (Okay)

DESCRIPTION: Generations after humanity spread across the stars, the spirit of Earth's Old West survives on the remote colony world of Carico. Here, Seth Reilly lives the cowboy life, training horses and herding native tarbh across the arid alien landscape. Called back to the family homestead, Seth only intended to stick around long enough to help out while his sister pursued an education in the distant city of Portside... but then he met Anni. An offworlder city girl fresh to the frontier town of Outer Rim, she immediately and unexpectedly ropes his wandering heart - but there couldn't be a worse time for Seth to fall in love. Jerdix, an ex-con that Seth's marshal father helped pursue two decades ago, has come back looking for vengeance, and Anni's involved up to her captivating brown-gold eyes. Even with offworld law scrutinizing Jerdix's every move, nobody can anticipate the depths of the man's depravity and hatred, nor the lengths to which he'll go to destroy the Reillys and the town of Outer Rim... lengths that could shatter Seth Reilly's heart and mind forever.

REVIEW: Ballard sets up a promising story with a clever cross-genre concept. The sci-fi elements influence the tale, making this more than just a Western with a futuristic paint job. Carico feels both comfortably familiar and intriguingly alien, with ranchers and horses mingling with strange creatures and peculiar plant life, and even in the frontier town of Outer Rim hints of high tech linger in the colonists' daily lives. Unfortunately, Ballard sabotages herself in two ways. First off, the Amazon blurb gives away plot elements that don't turn up until halfway (or, in one case, roughly two-thirds of the way) through the story. Partly as a consequence of this, but also on its own merit, the story feels unnecessarily slow, taking its own sweet time setting things up and introducing a host of peripheral characters before tearing them apart, only to slowly wade through the aftermath as it drives home the trauma in exhaustive, tedious detail. The second problem comes from grafting one-dimensional stock Western characters into a story that wants to be a deeper psychological exploration of severe post-traumatic stress... at least for Seth. (Anni, despite enduring multiple rapes, gets off fairly light on the psychological fallout for most of the tale - turning her violations into cheap plot devices compared to the struggles faced by Seth.) Jerdix in particular is more evil than humanly possible, a man so focused on inflicting pain and terror that it's hard to imagine him being the interplanetary criminal mastermind that he's supposed to be. While I liked parts of what I read here, I got tired of the characters and the stretched-out feeling of the plot.

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