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'The Raw Wet Sound of Splintering Bone'
Tau 4 by V. J. Waks
© 2013 James LaFond
I write speculative-fiction, so make it my business to read it. This is not a genre with a readership that expects or demands imitation of form: such as western, romance, mystery, techno-thriller or urban. I define speculative-fiction as the serious branches of science-fiction: not vampire-romance, role playing game based fantasy, video game based horror, etc. S-F readers like to see a new exploration of classic territory; not just an updated rework, but an original development within the subgenre.
The primary branch of serious science-fiction is, inevitably, its most popular and least serious branch: space opera. Star Wars, Star Trek, Pitch Black, The Chronicles of Riddick, and Serenity are examples of space opera. They can be quite good, even classic, and have wide appeal as a human-explored galaxy replaces mundane earthly historical settings for the telling of timeless tales. It is no accident that science-fiction movies have filled the traditional western niche in the film world.
The classic themes or branches in speculative fiction were laid down at the beginning by H.G. Wells and Jules Verne: lost worlds; time travel; space exploration; alien invasion; genetic engineering [Wells’ Island of Doctor Moreau]. Later, 1960’s writers like Sheldon, Harrison and Dick would make ‘social’ and/or apocalyptic themes dominant.
One of my chief interests is the question of genetic engineering, which can be traced all the way back to Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein, and must essentially become a tale of ‘man as god’, with the creator and created forced to coexist. In my search for serious speculative literature I came across the following.
Tau 4
V. J. Waks
2007, Authorhouse, 486 pages
First let me be attentive to the physical artifact, the actual hard copy version of the book. The cover is a copy of the 1906 painting The Sphinx and the Chimera, by Louis Welden Hawkins, and is printed on acid free paper, which we book collectors love. The type face is pleasing and the font size is readable for my weary eyes. The only problem I have with the text, which I know must have driven Ms. Waks crazy, is the ill-spaced hyphens and quotation marks. These do not come from her manuscript I assure you, but are corruptions introduced by the publisher’s PDF program. It is, despite this type-setting matter, a hauntingly attractive volume.
The setting for this story is clearly in the ‘space opera’ mold. The action begins on a research planet of the Homeworld Alliance, a federation of planets at war with a rival confederation of ‘Outworlds’. V. J. Waks deftly utilizes this popular type of sci-fi setting to mirror a commonwealth at war with outlying threats, and immediately explores the huge speculative issue of genetic engineering. The remote world of Altair is very much an ‘Island of Doctor Moreau’.
The story begins with Behaviorist Doctor Stephen Weller as his shuttle craft descends into the forests of Altair. He is being brought in to examine a product of Doctor Dyle Carzon’s infamous and controversial project: Tau 4.
Tau 4 has a first name, and it is Gerda. Gerda Tau is the fourth, most advanced, and last surviving product of Dyle Carzon’s obsessive quest to create the perfect war-fighter; a human-felid hybrid with the capacity to transmogrify. However, Gerda has become disillusioned with her creator, putting the entire project in question.
Ms. Waks does a vibrant job of coloring an alien world, imagining the psychological distress and complexity of a being such as Gerda Tau, and of utilizing her considerable narrative skills to introduce enough plot twists to make this an entertaining tale even if it were bereft of its core speculative aspect. Characters are introduced to the reader at a slow pace and fleshed out more through their interaction with other characters than by narrative intrusion. The dialogue is pleasing, and for kinetic meatheads such as myself there is enough physical action to propel the plot violently.
If the movies Hanna and The Bourne Legacy intrigued you with the possibility of our very genome being controlled by the evil people who rule us, and may one day seek to create us in a more efficient image, than you should find Tau 4 a fulfilling read. The space opera elements envisioned by the author have more the flavor of Serenity than the more standard cinematic offerings, and should appeal to the occasional sci-fi reader as well as to the deep geeks among us.
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