Sunday, July 8, 2012

Review: The Green and the Gray by Timothy Zahn

New York Times best selling author Timothy Zahn's 2004 novel The Green and the Gray was my first foray into this particular author's non-Star Wars fiction.  I was intrigued and decided to pick up this book because it seemed much different then the typical space opera novel that I am used to reading, and I am pleased to report I really enjoyed it.

Publisher's Summary: 
Timothy Zahn, author of Heir to the Empire, the best selling Star Wars novel of all time, has crafted a fresh, suspenseful tale of conflict in New York City that threatens to escalate into all-out genocidal warfare.
For seventy-five years the Greens and the Grays have lived quietly among us in the shadows of New York, alien refugees from a war of attrition that utterly destroyed the rest of their kind. Passing as everyday citizens, yet with powers and technologies unknown to humanity, each group has long believed that they are all that remain of their old world and their terrible conflict.
But now, to their mutual surprise, they have found each other, and the old hatreds and fears have once again risen to the surface.
And each side is preparing again for war.
On a cold October night, Roger and Caroline Whittier, a young couple struggling with their marriage, are accosted at gunpoint, and an unexpected burden is thrust upon them: Melantha Green, a twelve-year-old girl snatched from the hands of a peace coalition consisting of both Greens and Grays. The coalition had been preparing to cold-bloodedly sacrifice her in a last-ditch effort to prevent the impending battle . . . and it desperately wants her back.
As Roger and Caroline strive to protect Melantha and to understand the alien cultures they have suddenly been thrust into, they find aid in unlikely places. They're joined in their efforts by NYPD Detective Thomas Fierenzo, who's determined to prevent what he believes to be an impending gang war, and by Otto Velovsky, a former Ellis Island clerk who was present at the very beginning of the aliens' new life on earth.
Unlikely allies, unlikely heroes...and they have just one week to find a way to prevent New York City from becoming a battlefield the likes of which the world has never known...
The novel kicks off with Roger and Caroline Whittier, in the middle of a marriage in crisis. All to often in our relationships it is the breakdown of communication that leads to misunderstandings and emotional trauma. In Roger and Caroline, Zahn portrays a human couple with very human flaws and provides characterization that for this reader was at times uncomfortable because it hit close to home.
In the midst of this damaged relationship, we have Melantha Green thrust, a young girl who was to be sacrificed by two mysterious groups of aliens (The Greens and the Grays) in order to maintain a tense peace between the two groups.  An unknown injured gunman entrusts the care of Melantha to Roger and Caroline in a dark alley.

From that moment on the entire world changes for Roger and Caroline and as they unravel the mystery of who Melantha is, they open up an even greater mystery about the two groups of aliens in New York City and race to find answers and a way to stop the coming war between the two groups.

Genetically different yet similar to humans the Greens and the Grays represent two distinct races of aliens, the Greens a darker haired Mediterranean looking race that is aligned with nature and trees in particular and has some rather curious abilities.  The Grays are a shorter, stockier race, more aligned with rocks, metals and electronic technology.  Zahn does a delicate job in world building with the Greens and the Grays, giving us enough information to make the cultures feel complete and distinct, but not overloading us with unnecessary trivialities.

As the threat of war between the Greens and the Grays grows, Detective Fierenzo joins the tale and becomes the third point of view character in the novel.

What follows are a number of twists and turns as Zahn does a tremendous job keeping the reader guessing about what is really going on and what is going to happen next.  If you read enough fiction you can usually spot these plot "twists" coming a mile away and usually guess what is going to happen.  What Zahn does is pack so many of these twists in that I ended up being wrong more often than not when I tried to guess where the story was going next.

It is interesting to note that the two spacecraft we see in the novel never move, this is a very down to earth Sci-fi novel, the themes of miscommunication, fear, and trans-generational feuding weigh strongly here.  Whether it is the Hatfields and McCoys or the Israelis and Palestinians, the kind of blood feud that the Greens and the Grays have is a familiar and powerful storytelling element.

One thing that is evident to readers of Zahn's Star Wars fiction is that he has a very good way of introducing characters and plot lines that will all come together in the climax of the story.  This same pattern applies to this novel giving a satisfying conclusion to this massive  541 page book.

If you enjoy Zahn's writing and are looking for something a little different than the typical science fiction or fantasy novel, give The Greens and the Grays a read.

The Green and the Gray is available as an eBook on Amazon Kindle for $6.99.

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