There was a lot to like about this novel, especially the wonder and
awe at an untouched world, and love between the two main characters.
Even as distrust tore them apart, the natural alternate world brought
them together again. The plot of a coup was almost ancillary to the
showcase of the wild lands. The fact that it was stuck in a white,
male-dominated-women way-subservient culture, and that the author had
them kill off almost all the natives (intentionally) made it hard to
like the society from our more modern point of view, but the fact that
Adrienne could become so powerful shows that it is in the process of
change, despite the patriarchal setup. Unfortunately, I lost interest
in most of what was happening less than halfway through, and it took
me a very long time to finish. The showcase went on for way too long,
and for that middle part of the book, nothing happened. It was a
beautiful world, for sure, and there was a lot to show. Maybe if I
lived in California I would have cared about the place names and the
Firstside comparison, but most of them meant nothing to me. The author
had a tendency to drawn on his descriptions for too long, also,
listing supplies, or birds, or insects, or grasses, or weapons, or so
many other things, for example, through a list of ten, twenty, or more
items. By the time the climactic battle took place, it almost seemed
like an afterthought, and I was still rushing to get through it. It’s
a good thing that the two main characters were so open-minded, that I
enjoyed their relationship, when they weren’t gawking and doing
nothing except observing nature.
It’s too bad that this novel wasn’t half the length. There is so much
description that it detracts from the story. I realize that the
alternate reality Earth is a chance to do things differently and that
while the people who went there didn’t do a great job (they’re still
human, after all), they took some of our mistakes to heart and tried to
avoid some of them. Part of that is keeping people ignorant, of social
progression, of technology and more. How many people on the New Virginia
side of the gate know how to program well enough to keep the tracking
software working? Some, like Adrienne, went to university, so they must
have at least a basic understanding.
Regardless, the jaw-dropping
awe the main character feels on seeing every part of this new landscape
is mesmerizing at first, but grows old very quickly. Everywhere they go,
even if they’ve passed by again, is compared with what exists Firstside
(our side of the gate). Worse, though, is the way the character recounts
the myriad animals, birds, insects and plants and trees that are growing
there, many of which are extinct because of human interference. It might
have been better if the lists ended after two or three items, but they
kept going for paragraphs, which was tedious.
I was reading the
book for a story, not a wilderness guide, and unfortunately there isn’t
much of one. The strict patriarchy that exists in New Virginia keeps
people in line, but with the ages, more people have gone through the
gate, recruited or stumbled upon the secret. Many of those coopted to go
through were those seeking asylum from past major events, like ex-nazis
or ex-Soviet soldiers, trying to escape war crimes -because they
wouldn't be missed. It’s no wonder that
they started an illegal trade in exotic animals, and want to profit from
it monetarily with no compunction against exploiting the new world.
The plot begins with this trade, as a warehouse burns down but they
rescue furs from exotic animals, plus one condor that has no pollutants
in its body. It turns out the New Virginians burn everything extremely
hot when illegal activities are found out, so nobody on Firstside can
suspect even the existence of the gate. But Tom and Tully see enough to
make them suspicious, and keep the investigation going. This
necessitates intervention by Adrienne, an undercover agent from New
Virginia and granddaughter to the one who discovered the gate by his
complex arrangement of electronics one day in the 1940s.
2009 of this book is a little different from ours, as it seems that
there was a war with some Asian countries, who landed on American soil.
This allows some more sophisticated facial recognition and tracking
software, where Tom is able to use his FBI contacts to find where
Adrienne has been, and the location of the gate. I was surprised at how
quickly they reasoned out that there must be an alternate Earth, at
least until they saw the video footage.
Adrienne has been
scouting them, trying to see how she can shut down their investigation.
She captures some condors in New Virginia and releases them into
California Firstside to show that there was an undiscovered brood of
them in the mountains, covering the tracks of the one Tom found. She
starts to fall for him, and he for her, in a fast but natural
relationship built on common ground. When he finds out she’s been lying
to him, he’s very upset, but the land she exiles him to is so much to
his liking that it wins him over and he barely looks back, except for
the long stretches of comparison with his old world.
Adrienne is gorgeous, and the sex is great.
She shows him all
around New Virginia, from Rolfston (the largest city) to the wild game
park (imported animals from Africa and elsewhere), and more. He sees the
young and old, including a couple of opposing viewpoints. In these many
pages where nothing at all happens, Tom learns about the changed
landscape, the near annihilation of the native peoples (sometimes
intentionally), the differing beliefs, the lack of many non-white
peoples, the belief that women should still be housewives, and more.
Adrienne is a huge exception, and while she’s always at odds with her
father, her grandfather has a soft spot for her and she gets away with
I guess this is how the social revolution begins.
When they find evidence of a plot to take over New Virginia, so the bad
guys can profit and turn the lands into something they can exploit for
money, Tom and Tully agree to help Adrienne track down evidence, so that
Rolfe Senior can take action in the courts and among the Thirty
Families. The trek from the gate location (near San Francisco?) south
past Los Angeles and then east into the mountains, where they suspect
(correctly) that the army is being trained, takes a month. There is some
good character development in this part, especially the relationships
between Tom and Adrienne, Tully and Sandra, and some others like the
scout and his indian companion, and more. It's a good thing the coup was
"almost ready", as they state.
They meet an
aggressive Indian tribe, but shoot an elephant and give them the meat,
so win them partly over. Then they get attacked by another tribe in the
pay of the Collettas, and narrowly escape. By the time they get to the
army camp, a converted silver mine owned by the Collettas, the army is
ready to move. The Collettas have been training Aztecs and Mayans how to
fight, using Soviet fear tactics to keep the men in line. With the help
of the Indian tribe from earlier, they go on the attack, even as the
C130 transports are starting to take off on their way west to take over
The battle was well-written and exciting in some
spots, making it a good climax to the book. Once they’ve overcome the
ground base, they take small planes west and arrive at the gate soon
after the much reduced army, where Adrienne activates the gate
self-destruct. In the epilog, a scientist manages to get the gate open,
but it’s to a new alternate world, in a funny but not unexpected twist
There is so much going on in the background that it’s
impossible to summarize. The author put enough information to get a
sense of the politics, culture and ecology to make the world seem very
real, which was interesting to read about. It’s too bad that the rest of
the book was so long, because it took me a long time to get through. It
wasn’t that the book wasn’t interesting, but that it didn’t draw me back
night after night.