Phoenix, by Ken Rand

Phoenix, by Ken Rand book coverGenre: Science Fiction
Publisher: Zumaya Publications
Published: 2004
Reviewer Rating: three stars
Book Review by Pat Marlan

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Phoenix, by Ken Rand, left me feeling conflicted. I enjoyed the book, despite some parts that I felt weren’t as effective as they could have been at keeping my attention. More than a few times, I had to sort of shrug and accept it, even though that analytic part of my brain had just thrown a yellow warning flag.

Anna Devlin, one of the Authority (the ruling class of a much larger group referred to as the Familia) discovers she is pregnant. It was accomplished the old-fashioned way as well, not the typical test-tube Authority way back on Earth Home. She is excited about telling her husband, who is the Authority Administrator of the colony on Phoenix, an inhospitable world where daytime temperatures can sometime soar to over 140 degrees Fahrenheit. She is so excited, she cuts class short (she is a school teacher) and heads off to find her husband.

Along the way she suddenly finds herself caught up in a revolt by the Familia. She manages to locate her husband, and together they work their way through the explosions, looting, and gunfire to steal a transport in an attempt to flee the city to go to another settlement. They are detected and a chase ensues, one that results in the death of her husband and Anna abruptly finding herself injured and trapped on Phoenix’s desert surface, miles away from any colony and not even knowing what the results of the revolt were.

From that point, she begins her journey of survival; she must learn Phoenix’s ways if she is to live. Not only must she deal with a harsh and unforgiving environment, she must also face the uncertainty of her own mind, which threatens to slip into madness.

The revolt happened pretty quickly — too quickly I thought — since I didn’t feel I’d been given an adequate background to understand why it would happen. There are a few hints of oppression, but it’s an oppression from old Earth that doesn’t seem to be actively happening on Phoenix. Anna is a teacher — she has both Authority children and Familia in the same class. They seem to work and live together in the same place, sharing the same conditions, with no class stratification. We are never introduced to any Familia, other than Anna’s students. We don’t witness abuse or discrimination. So why the revolt? All I can do is shrug and move on….

The details of Anna’s struggle for survival were very convincing, even though the whole time I wasn’t quite able to accept it. Nevertheless, I shared her discoveries along with her as she explored Phoenix and learned its way. It was engrossing, even it it wasn’t convincing that a woman alone, with no tools, weapons, shelter, food or water, could survive in such an unforgiving environment. Rand even has her go a few days without water every now and then; in such temperatures, death from dehydration is only a day or two away at most, not considering how active Anna is as she traverses the landscape. Some thirty years pass in this manner, until events conspire to force Anna to confront those that destroyed everything she knew and hoped for.

I think Rand puts a bit much emphasis on Anna’s mental state, and makes her survival much easier than it should have been, but he still presents us with a wounded heroine who we can’t help but root for. Alas, it’s all a bit thin in the end however, as Rand short-changes some elements of the story; the relationship between the Authority and Familia, the revolt, the passage of decades while Anna wanders the surface struggling with her memories (or lack thereof), the ease with which she adapts to the environment…. It’s a personal tale of survival; one could easily transplant Anna to an isolated, inhospitable (and very large) island populated with hostile natives.

Despite my quibbles, Rand evokes an interesting tale of courage survival, that, while it might not be convincing, is still very readable. Those readers with a preference for character driven fiction will find Phoenix engrossing even if the science fiction part is a bit lacking.

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