I dived into the audiobook version of “A Thousand Words For Stranger” knowing nothing about it except that I loved the title.
The start took my breathe away. I was dropped into a complex, planet-spanning, multi-species universe where neither I nor the main character knew what was going on other than that she was in danger and had to get off-world fast. I felt the same excitement that I did going to “Star Wars” in 1977 when everything was new and unknown but it felt solid and it moved fast and I really wanted to learn more.
What followed was a romp across strange worlds, including a gigantic shopping mall in space (no, it wasn’t called DS9), a swamp city with venomous priests and a city where the buildings had no doors, with the main character, Sira being pursued by pirates, Trade Pack Enforcers and members of a telepathic, teleporting race call The Clan.
Sira’s memory has been suppressed so she doesn’t know who she is or why so many people are after her. She takes refuge with charismatic Captain Morgan, who runs his own spacecraft single-handed and trades across Pact Space.
The relationship between Sira and Captain Morgan is built skillfully and manages to provide the emotional drive of the story as well as being central to the mystery surrounding Sira and her loss of memory.
Some of the secondary characters are beautifully drawn, almost to the point of distracting me. For example, the book opens from the point of view of a Trade Pact Enforcer from an avian species. I loved being inside his head but I didn’t get to go there again after the first few chapters.
There was a slight hiatus about eighty per cent through when a major crisis is spectacularly resolved but none of the hinted at but not explained issues around Sira have been dealt with. This made the set-up of the ending a little too dense in content that could have been shared earlier.
These are minor niggles. I spent most of my time cheering for the good guys, hissing at the bad guys and wondering if what I thought I’d figured out would actually turn out to be the explanation (The answer: mostly yes but with a few surprises- I think this is the perfect mix).
After I’d cheered at the end, both because it was a good ending and a great set up for something else interesting to happen next, I looked up Julie E. Czernado and discovered that this idea-packed, well-written, epic SF story was her debut novel and that it was published way back in 1997 (and still stands up).
So the bad news is that, even though I’m an avid Science Fiction fan, I somehow missed out on reading Julie E Czernado until now. The good news is that I have another seventeen novels set in the same universe ahead of me.