R.M. Meluch,
Tour of the Merrimack
#1: The Myriad

(DAW, 2005)

R.M. Meluch's first books were marvels: Sovereign, Chicago Red and Jerusalem Fire all had a kind of hard-edged poetry to them, a numinous quality that made the narrative hover just over where you were sure the story really was, like a Mark Rothko painting. The Myriad, the first book of a new series after too long a hiatus, seems almost too down to Earth to be a story by Meluch, but then, her stories always did.

The known galaxy has been divided, at least the human portions of it, into two not-friendly spheres of influence: Earth and its colonies on the one hand, and the Palatine Empire on the other. The Palatines were originally from Earth and founded a colony based on the traditions of Rome that eventually came into conflict with the mother world -- but then, imperial ambitions do tend to collide. The two, however, have found it expedient to unite in the face of a threat that quite plainly will leave neither the victor -- in fact, the Hive will indubitably destroy both completely if they don't act together.

The story centers on the Earth ship Merrimack, a battleship on search-and-destroy that encounters an anomaly at the edge of the star cluster IC9870986, called "The Myriad." The anomaly leads to three planets settled by a humanoid species under the rule of an autocrat who finds the humans appealing. He is also about to create a temporal incongruity by warning his homeworld of danger it faces.

Meluch has come up with a fast, smart adventure story with a couple of wrinkles, the most important of which is the plot twist near the end that puts a whole new dimension into the story. It's not a surprise -- aside from the "adventure" part, which involves a couple of fierce battles in space and a stand-off between the Merrimack and a group of representatives from the League of Earth Nations, most of the novel is taken up with uncovering the puzzle. The LEN representatives, alas, are one of a few flaws in the book, individually and as a group little more than crude caricatures of the politically correct, at sharp variance with the deft handling of the rest of the characters. Otherwise, the story is tight and absorbing, with a vivid cast and solid universe building.

Book two of this series is out, and book three is due this summer. Keep an eye out for them, If The Myriad is any indication, Meluch has lost none of her strengths as a writer and has even developed a couple of new ones.

review by
Robert M. Tilendis

12 May 2007

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