William C. Dietz,
(Ace, 2001)

According to William C. Dietz's DeathDay, February 28, 2020 is the end of the world as we know it -- and no one's feeling fine. The Saurons, an insect-like alien race, attack Earth, wiping out major cities and most of the population. Those who survive are enslaved and herded to a site near Bellingham, Wash., where they are set to work building a citadel by hand.

The book follows a number of people who approach a convergence, among whom are Jack Manning, a security officer, Alexander Franklin, the governor of Washington installed by the Saurons as a "puppet" president, Boyer Blue, a historian who finds himself at the head of an impromptu resistance group, and Deacon Smith, an ex-Ranger and 19th-century re-enactor who forms a formidable resistance group. These are some of the people who will band together as the story moves along.

Also joining the resistance are most of the technologically advanced Ra Na, the furry aliens who were enslaved by the Saurons generations before and who design technology for them now. One of their number in particular, Fra Pol, a clever rumpled specimen with a voracious appetite, spearheads this part of the movement with the information he has gleaned: the Saurons are building the citadel as a place where they will die will giving birth to the nymphs who will carry on their lines.

The Saurons are not the resistance fighters' only opponents. Jonathan Ivory leads a group of "racialists" intent on establishing a new white order that has no room for minorities or aliens. Recruited to their cause is Marta Manning, Jack Manning's sister, a prison inmate in the pre-Sauron days. Marta is a chilling character, an embodiment of hatred with a complete absence of conscience.

Dietz intercuts scenes featuring different characters and keeps the pace at breakneck speed. He is a master of the mini-cliffhanger and usually manages to keep the various threads under control. His writing style is clipped and at times repetitive, and he makes expansive use of sentence fragments that, at the same time, somehow support his style. The power of his storytelling and his impeccable sense of the rhythm of language easily overrides any mechanical flaws.

His characterizations often start out awkward and sketchy. They focus on the external descriptions. But once the character is introduced, Dietz makes him or a distinct and vivid individual. Finally, although this is a novel of revolution, resistance and patriotism, Dietz does not take himself too seriously, nor does he allow his characters to do so. Plenty of humor offsets the despair, and while hardcore science-fiction readers might not like how the aliens seem to think like humans, I think Dietz makes a nifty point about universals.

There is a lot of gore and violence in DeathDay, and it's definitely not for the squeamish. Even so, it qualifies as a "ripping yarn," an engrossing adventure that leaves you wanting more.

- Rambles
written by Donna Scanlon
published 16 November 2002

Buy it from Amazon.com.