T’top, by Jeffrey Testin

T'top, by Jeffrey Testin coverGenre: Science Fiction
Publisher: America House
Published: 2004
Reviewer Rating: three stars
Book Review by S. Fazekas

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Jeffrey J. Testin’s first novel T’top is a pleasant surprise. Well grounded in hard sciences, with an interesting plot and some good writing, despite a few flaws it’s a satisfying read. Testin mixes a contemporary mid-Western setting with an ancient alien world in this adventure story.

Tom Topecki is a professor of paleontology at Montana University who finds a fully articulated Triceratops horridus skeleton. His wife and colleague Sarah is present at the excavation when lightning strikes, destroying the skeleton. Sarah is killed, and an ancient alien artifact is released from the triceratops skull.

Topecki inadvertently handles the artifact and undergoes a transformation. He becomes T’top, a powerful being with memories of the advanced alien civilization that made the artifact. Unbeknownst to humanity, Earth has been infested by malevolent spores. From the spores is born a huge, hideous creature bent on destroying the planet. T’top’s memories and superhuman powers must provide for humanity’s defense if the destructive creature is to be thwarted.

Testin’s science is the real deal. From paleontology to geology to astrophysics, he delivers in a credible and interesting fashion that even the layman can follow. Through his main character, Testin expounds on a theory of dinosaur migration I found so interesting that I had to research it further. His explanation of plate tectonics and volcanism is convincing and written such that it ties in with the adventure easily.

His main characters are likable and very human. Topecki’s relationship with his father is one any son will recognize. His simple, profound love for Sarah is touching. Sarah herself is competent, intelligent and patient with her man. Some of Testin’s secondary characters are less well written, however. Topecki’s friend Joe is flat and not convincing, and Testin uses him in several scenes merely as a vehicle through which to expound.

In some respects, T’top over-reaches. While Topecki the paleontologist is believable, T’top the half-man, half-triceratops is not. The vision conjured in my mind by Testin’s description was actually somewhat silly. Additionally, Testin gives us an opening scene depicting the triceratops defending its herd against a T rex. While well written, the scene did not fit the rest of the story and there was no tie to the alien artifact.

Also, Testin’s alien civilization appears to be merely a statement on the merits of nature and the evils of technology. The aliens are split into two conclaves; science rules the majority of them, while a minority lives in harmony with the environment. When the technologists create a mechanism that will ultimately develop into the planet-destroying spores, the tree-huggers destroy their own civilization to prevent further infection. I found the whole “technology is bad, nature is good” theme somewhat heavy-handed and a little surprising from an author who is so obviously well grounded in hard sciences.

There are some smaller flaws that stuck out. Testin has Air Force F-15 Strike Eagles carry Tomahawk cruise missiles. An Air Force colonel is referred to as “Commander”, and a good ol’ boy senator belongs to the National Security Council. A scene in which a deceased Native American professor of astrophysics meets Topecki in a truck stop went too far in terms of exposition.

For all that it could use a little more editing, T’top is a good first book and worth a read. Fans of hard science will not be disappointed, and lovers of the dinosaurs (especially the triceratops) will enjoy Testin’s work as well.

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