Book Review: ‘Paragaea (A Planetary Romance)’ by Chris Roberson

Chris Roberson's 'Paragaea'

‘Paragaea (A Planetary Romance)’ by Chris Roberson (US HBK 1591024404, Prometheus Books, September 2006)

Leena Chirikova, the last female cosmonaut, is orbiting the Earth in the radiation-soaked van Allen belts when her spacecraft strikes a silvery anomaly and is deposited into space above a planet that is not her own. After heroically surviving re-entry burn-up and then planet-fall into a river, she is catapulted into the strangeness of her new environment when she is captured by a group of jaguar-people, who hog-tie her and cart her off into the jungle.

She is rescued in short order by Heironymos ‘Hero’ Bonaventure, a British sailor from the Napoleonic era, and Balam, exiled prince of the Sinaa, the jaguar-like race of ‘metamen’. In the company of these two roguish privateers, she sets off into the strange world of Paragaea to try to find a way back to the planet she was born on. On their quest, they encounter hazards and wonders aplenty, meet strange new enemies and companions, and uncover some of the mysteries of the planet’s genesis.

In Paragaea, Roberson has made an attempt at reinventing the classic ‘pulp’ sf adventure story a la Edgar Rice Burroughs, updating it with more modern tropes and ideas. Many of the mysteries the adventurers encounter are based in ‘real’ science (speculative or otherwise), e.g. wormhole travel, helium dirigibles and uploaded intelligences.

Even so, it’s strictly an adventure quest story, and suffers slightly from being somewhat caught between camps. The sf tropes aren’t dealt with in a ‘hard’ enough manner to truly subvert the pulp format, and there’s just not quite enough swashbuckling action to make it the rollicking tale it could have been. The pace is fast, focussing on the events that really move the narrative, and lengthy combat scenes might well have acted as baggage. But the reader may be left feeling that the real meat of the adventure is passed over; if one’s protagonists are fighters, one tends to want to see them fight.

Nevertheless, Paragaea is a fun read, in a way that harder sf rarely achieves; not too demanding, but compelling enough to keep the pages turning and the reader’s interest piqued.

{NB: This interview originally published in Interzone #205, republished here with the permission of the editor.}

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