Dawn of Man, by Elbert Lewis, Jr.

dawn-of-man-by-elbert-lewis-jr coverGenre: Science Fiction
Publisher: iUniverse
Published: 2001
Reviewer Rating: two and a half stars
Book Review by Lynn Nicole Louis

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In Dawn of Man, Lewis does an admirable job of creating minority characters that aren’t often seen in science fiction. Like Lewis, most of his characters are African American. I don’t know if anyone’s noticed, but speculative fiction seems to be rather sterile when it comes to cultural diversity. There are a few minority culture authors out there, but they are rare. It’s refreshing to read about people one doesn’t normally encounter in science fiction from a viewpoint that’s not well represented.

Lewis draws heavily on his military experience to add verisimilitude to the story, and does so very effectively. The writing is lean and successful — especially the action sequences. Like most self-published books, the lack of a ‘real’ editor was noticeable in a variety of typos/errors that a spellchecker and untrained proofreader just wouldn’t pick up. There for their, it’s for its, etc. No biggie, but detracting upon occasion. Yet while I found Dawn of Man to be an interesting read, I’d have to say it that overall it wasn’t a very good book.

I’m going to have some trouble explaining what I mean….

The blurb informs us that we’re going to read a book about alien invasion and first contact. We do get that, but it doesn’t makeup the bulk of the story. The bulk of the story follows the adventures of a genetic superman named Logan as he reaps revenge on hapless redneck folk for the death of one of his protegees. Aliens don’t actually arrive until much later in the story, and I do mean much later. When they do finally show up, Lewis saps most of the tension from the resulting human/alien conflicts by making the alien nigh near invincible. Realistic? Probably. But not good for a book.

And that brings me to Lewis’ main character Logan. Humans, we learn, are the result of alien DNA tampering — the DNA of Neanderthals mixed with alien DNA in an attempt to breed the ultimate warrior. The good aliens are fleeing the bad aliens and fighting a retreating action. In order to help recover some of the aggressiveness the good aliens lost after millennia of peace, they tamper with various life forms on the planets they discover. On Earth, their tampering worked, but only partially in that it has so far only produced one true MAN (mutation accelerated nemesis) capable of fighting the evil aliens overrunning the galaxy. While some racial mixing can produce genome adepts — people with increased abilities — in order to be a MAN, it seems that a person must have a perfect mix of all the sub-types (or races) of humanity. What this means of course is that no ‘pure’ racial representative can be a MAN.

While I like the concept, Logan’s powers and abilities were a big part of what was wrong with the book. In the first 90%, where Logan is tracking redneck killers and foiling a plot by white supremacists to kill off African Americans, he uses his special abilities and alien technology. Unfortunately, these abilities and the technology make Logan pretty much invulnerable. Throughout the book, Logan places himself in dangerous situations, only to him, they aren’t dangerous. There’s never a doubt that he will emerge unscathed. He’s Superman without the kryptonite, Achilles without the heel, and that hurts the story. How can we be on the edge of our seats when we know he can’t be hurt by Earth’s puny and paltry technology? We can’t and we aren’t. Sense of jeopardy it’s called, and it was absent.

Too, for me, Logan came off as unsympathetic. His extreme violence in pursuing his revenge felt unwarranted, especially against ‘innocent’ bystanders who hindered him occasionally. Decapitations, amputations, exploding heads and broken bones abound. MAN he might be, but nice he ain’t. He’s almost sociopathic in his violence as he kills hundreds without so much as a twinge of conscience.

Another poorly done aspect of the book is its focus. It’s Logan getting revenge, it’s white supremacists plotting to kill minorities, it’s Logan foiling their plot, it’s Logan introducing the concept of alien life and the fact that humans are engineered, it’s aliens invading earth…. Whew! It’s a credit to Lewis that each of these plot lines is interesting, but taken as a whole, there’s too much going on and it’s too disparate to tie together well. It’s all over the place, like a shotgun blast, instead of the aimed rifle shot a book should be. Multiple plot lines add depth, but, for me, this just didn’t all tie up into a neat little package.

Another risk highlighted here is that of writing near term science fiction. Lewis wrote his book in 2001, soon after the World Trade Center attacks, but the novel takes place in 2005. In it he makes some political speculations as to world events and the world situation in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks, speculations that end up being wrong. In a way, that sort of makes this book alternate future science fiction, since several situations in the book grew out of present day events that never actually occurred. There are plenty of books that suffer from this — it’s not actually bad, but it does make it sort of odd when you read about something that happened that never really did. Like all the end-of-the-world stories/books based on the Y2K bug.

To sum it up: I like Lewis’ style. I like how he integrates personal experience and knowledge into his work. I like his prose (though it might be too gruesomely descriptive for some). He’s got the basics; now he needs to get away from worrying about writing to worrying about writing a book. Study the structure of novel and pay particular attention to pacing and story arc. Work on integrating his disparate plots so they meld better and unify the focus.

I think the speculative fiction fan who enjoys science fiction with a military style would probably enjoy this.

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