Critical Threshold by Brian Stableford

Why I Read It: Book 1 was quite good and I wanted another adventure.

Where I Got It: A review copy from the publisher (thanks!)

Who Do I Recommend This To: This series is an example of classic scifi at it’s best, exploring the various difficulties of human colonization of the galaxy.

Publisher: Wildside Press (2011)

Length: 200 pages

Series: Book 2 Daedalus Mission

Alex and his crew made it off Floria (Book 1) after ~1 year and spent several weeks in space trekking to Dendra, a planet covered in one large forest. The previous check-in mission decades past had less-than-hopeful reports for Dendra. Unlike other colonies, this one was full of strictly volunteers that signed off on knowing the world was borderline habitable for humans. The initial scout mission was given very little time to catalog all the various dangers of the planet. The Daedalus doesn’t find what they expect (the barest traces of a failed human colony) nor what they hope (a thriving human civilization). Instead, a small group of left-over humans, staring daftly around, clothed in aging scraps of material and living in a rundown village gawk at the appearance of a spaceship in their midst. These humans have obviously lost Earth’s technology and science, but something more plagues them. Can the Daedalus crew discover what it is without succumbing to it themselves?

I am really enjoying this series because there is biology left and right; you can’t read these books without picking up some understanding of ecology and the possibilities and dangers inherent in colonizing the galaxy. Told through Alex’s viewpoint, he tries to unravel the mystery of this planet and what happened to the colony. Marial, the crews ‘reader’, is quite unsettled by what she sees, or doesn’t see, in the few humans left at the village. The bulk of the story happens in the forest with Alex, Marial, and Karen hiking around trying to find any other sign of human life. What they find, while human in appearance, is no longer human in mind.

Alex is intensely uncomfortable around Marial because she can read body language and facial expressions so well as to be nearly psychic. Alex has spent effort and time avoiding her and now he is on a close-quarters mission with her. Karen provides a bridge and a buffer for the poor man. She also hints that perhaps there is some sexual tension between the two. I am happy to say that nothing comes out of that, one of the reasons being Marial is 14 and Alex has a son 2 years older than her, making him, conservatively, in his mid-30s. Despite that one little jaunt down WTF Lane, this story is an excellent read. The women are key players, independent, get to handle the weapons, save the men as often as they get saved by the men or each other. Pretty freaking 21st century for a book originally published in 1977, making Brian Stableford a much appreciated author.

Each mission is in a unique world with it’s own ecological issues the humans have to acclimatize too, plus any human-made political problems. Book 2 wasn’t simply a rerun of Book 1 on a different planet. No, something strange, unique, and other-worldly truly happened on Dendra to the missing colonial descendants. A worthy and exciting series.

What I Liked: Flora and fauna play a big role; I like riding around in Alex’s head, always trying to make the connections to ever changing biological dots; the women are real human beings, fully capable and just as vulnerable as the men; was not expecting the ending; the cover is beautiful.

What I Don’t Like: Alex and Marial? really?

3 thoughts on “Critical Threshold by Brian Stableford”

  1. I like the sound of this – but, I’m totally a newbie with sci-fi – do you think I’d like it? I’m sort of just dipping my toe in at the moment so trying to take it nice and easy.
    Lynn 😀

    1. If you’re into the biosciences, I think this would be a good series to start with. Fir grand sweeping ideas, Asimov’s Foundation trilogy and Frank Herbert’s Dune series are both great. If you like space opera (lots of fantastical beings and fast-paced action), try Simon Greene’s Deathstalker series. Andre Norton has a lot of classic stand alone scifi stories.

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