The territory of science fiction is almost always a gradient from our present (or some breaking point in the past) becoming more foreign and sliding into the realms of fantasy, which is why sci-fi and fantasy are lumped together in many book stores or at least side-by-side, often to the confounding of puritan pursuers of either genre. As one progresses technologically from the current state, one may extrapolate a great number of possibilities that seem to our minds logical, though we know not how they may eventually be achieved. For the imagination to link ‘what is’ with ‘what may be’ is sufficient within the classical realms of science fiction, keeping it distinct from those more mythological sci-fi concepts which have produced a melding together of these two platforms.

Whereas man cannot yet ‘transport’ himself, so commonplace in Star Trek, man does understand the concepts of travel, of atoms and energy, and may therefore engage the faculty of concept to create a power that may yet exist in the distant future. The same, we cannot travel faster than light and the principle of this is so well-founded that Feynman diagrams always include that truth as the defining boundary. However, to the conventional mind, a speed limit of the universe is no more absolute law than a sign on the road which we find so easy to circumvent. Sure, the mathematics make hard work of it, but there remains so much for us to understand scientifically that we become confident in the existence of a way or ways around the laws that we currently understand.

Still, there seem to be some concepts which appear less as science fiction and more mythological, placing the stories of those concepts more toward the fanciful edge of the spectrum. It so happens that fantasy isn’t bound to our past, but may exist in any pinning of times and places, though this may only be because the yang to this yin is itself bound to a forward progress, science fiction. It had once been clear to me that science fiction is concerned with the future and fantasy with the past, as the yarns of mythos and mother goose were products that I consumed as a younger boy, and therefore they were based upon a distant history twisted into quaint tales. Of course that is nonsense. Fantasy is primarily the work of entirely different universes, not mere creations of our history.

It shouldn’t surprise anyone that I consider the Star Wars universe to be a mixture of fantasy and western genres more so than a science fiction universe. The stories are not focused on advanced technologies, though such things are present. It focuses on a mysticism in a civilization which seems to include humans, and yet nothing else we may recognize outside of a few conventions that ended up being included only as service to humans.

Well note, all of the above-mentioned genres I find intriguing, and the blendings of these can produce wildly imaginative stories which fascinate and thrill and terrify, so long as the reader opens up his logical faculties enough to embrace the proffered ideas. My only point in setting forth these few notes is to offer a framework from which the following review is to be accepted: that I have a great appreciation for the varying shades of fiction which embrace a world not quite our own or alternatively, very much unlike our own.

Gabriel’s Redemption by Steve Umstead is a conventionally-set science fiction book, which finds appeal not through escaping what is, but that we may glimpse what may soon be. The world has consolidated into super-power continent-states which get along with each other, only because the backroom operators, the worlds most powerful, understand that insurmountably grand chess game that a powergrab requires, since the world is so fully conquered and controlled. Thus treacherous dealings are underfoot to shift the map further.

Evan Gabriel is a soldier with no such ambitions. A special-ops team-leader, he was a mission-oriented man, simply trying to complete the tasks to which he was assigned, trusting that the objectives he was provided with were honorable, and sometimes finding that the oily, politically-driven officers who established the assignments were often anything but honorable. Still, he believed himself to be doing the greater good, that is until everything went awry, and his final completed mission bitterly cost the lives of his entire special forces team, leaving only Evan himself, holding a psychological bag of dog-tags cushioned only by disquieted survivor’s guilt and no small supply of distaste for the officer who so carelessly sent the team on a suicide run.

Redemption opens to a broken, paranoid man, with all the outward signs of attempting bare survival, and all the inner indications of no real purpose to survive, but that this was always how Gabriel was trained. For a Navy man to attempt a rudderless existence is quite suggestive of his dreadful depression, even if there’s no need for  a rudder in space.

The world has changed since mankind had discovered wormholes allowing planets in other systems to be colonized. Gabriel is sent to a distant planet with a team in order to shut down an illegal operation that requires…. extra-legal delicacy, a proficient hand that can cut as deeply enough to kill. What he finds on that planet requires a sort of rebellion he never expected would be necessary, far less prudent, though he certainly had let an occasional daydream slide through his mind, if only to satisfy his basest of vengeful urges.

Gabriel’s Redemption includes more than personal vindication; intrigue, savagery, compassion, kinship, science, camaraderie, and more paint a realistic mosaic; a story, not gut-wrenchingly dark while not overly positive. It’s well worth the price. A fine read at a minimal premium, with the promise of more to come. Buy this one!

Gabriel's Redemption by Steve Umstead

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