Publisher: Wildside Press
Book Review by Richard R. Horton
Fortunate SF readers will have encountered William Sanders’ earlier novels Journey to Fusang, a fine, funny-serious, alternate history about a North American colonized by the Chinese instead of the Europeans, and The Wild Blue and the Grey, another alternate history about Indians from an independent state as pilots in World War I. Even more fortunate folk may have encountered some of Sanders’ other work (some of which was by-lined Will Sundown). These are good novels, but they were buried by distribution and publishing problems.
Sanders recently returned to writing SF, mostly in shorter forms. He’s published such excellent stories as “Elvis Bearpaw’s Luck”, “The Undiscovered” (which was nominated for both the Nebula and the Hugo), and in F&SF, “Jennifer, Just Before Midnight”. He has also published a new SF novel, The Ballad of Billy Badass and the Rose of Turkestan.
This is a very fine contemporary fantasy, with an exciting story in the forefront, as well an involving love story, plenty of humor, and even a message. The message doesn’t get in the way: instead, the story supports the message, which is passionately presented and definitely worth hearing.
The title characters are Billy Badwater, a Cherokee and a Gulf War veteran, and Janna Turonova, a doctor from Kazakhstan. Janna is in the U.S. partly to alert people to the terrible environmental damage done in Kazakhstan by Soviet nuclear testing and toxic waste. Billy meets her at a powwow, and they fall in love. Soon Billy finds himself chasing this woman across the western U.S., and on a reservation in Nevada he finds evidence that much as the Soviets used the Asian people’s land as dumping grounds and testing grounds, the U.S. has used Native American land in the same way. The fantasy element arises from a monster that is called forth by the toxic waste in Nevada. Billy, aided by Janna and some other friends, especially his dead Grandfather, is pushed to use Indian magic in battle against the monster.
The story is exciting and involving throughout, and the love story is convincing and sexy. The end perhaps depends a bit too much on magical powers that don’t arise quite naturally from the rest of the story, but this is a minor blemish on a fine novel.