Michael Paul,
(Chancellor, 2003)

The incredible high quality of some self-published novels is really amazing -- and Excelsior, Michael Paul's thrilling debut -- is certainly a case in point. This novel is, in a word, brilliant, filled with intrigue, excitement, romance, science, politics, heroism and so much more. It has enough plot material to fill several books, but Paul has wonderfully crafted everything together in one tight package that keeps the reader completely mesmerized at all times.

Just look at everything going on in this futuristic thriller set in the year 2035: a bio-terrorist threat specifically targeting the population of China, the proposed building of domed habitats to protect society from future cataclysms, the black market cloning of women as sex slaves, a potential catastrophe aboard a magnificent, luxurious space station, the sabotage of deep-space vehicles, the increasing likelihood of war between the United States and China, and all of the diplomatic maneuvering that goes on behind the scenes to avoid a global nuclear conflict.

Don't worry that Paul is overextending himself in constructing such a complex plot, as he exerts an almost magical control over everything taking place -- and he brings it all together for a real page-turner of an ending.

The protagonist of the novel is Miles Cash, a super-wealthy industrialist who is determined to finance and build a major domed city in the desert, the first of hopefully many such refuges that can protect humanity from worsening climactic conditions and the vagaries of evil men. He holds a big meeting with potential investors in the fancy Reston Heaven hotel on the space station Excelsior, but the trip also has a personal agenda. On former visits, Cash has been smitten by Custom Services employee Leena Doda, a woman who happens to be a clone raised to be a highly skilled call girl. She is in fact a product of an illicit sex-slave cloning industry run out of Bangkok. Cash commits himself to "rescue" Leena and take her back to Earth with him no matter what.

While all of this is going on, the U.S. Secretary of State is presented with an accusation by the Chinese ambassador that the U.S. is developing a biological weapon aimed at wiping out the Chinese people, setting off an urgent series of secret intelligence meetings. As it turns out, this farcical charge may have an element of truth to it, as a rogue element of rabidly anti-Chinese individuals may indeed have both the will and the capacity to make and unleash just such a weapon. Miles Cash himself supplies important information about the possibilities of the weapon, putting his own life in danger, but his main concerns remain the building of his domed city (the importance of which is only reinforced by the budding threat of biological and nuclear war) and the rescue of Leena from Excelsior. The space station eventually finds itself at the crux of events, as the Chinese refuse to sit idly by and let themselves be attacked by a weapon of potentially mass destruction.

The above paragraph barely begins to describe the plot of this novel. While the time spent following the sex-slave cloning magnate tends to drag a tiny bit at times, the rest of the novel moves ahead on full thrusters all the way. Each aspect of the plot is fascinating in and of itself, especially the political maneuvering that takes place inside the American government, but the culminating events onboard Excelsior are charged with pure, heart-pumping adrenaline. All of the main players themselves are wonderfully developed, with all sorts of memorable nuances to their characters that make them unforgettable and amazingly human. The whole society of 2035 is also richly developed, allowing the reader to be immersed in a full-scale futuristic universe. By the mid-point of this novel, I was thoroughly engrossed and just kept turning page after page in a relentless effort to find out how everything played out. Honestly, this is one of the most exciting and fast-paced science fiction novels I have ever read, and I may in fact be doing the book a disservice by referring to it as science fiction because the action actually touches upon a number of thrilling genres.

The prescience of the events chronicled in this novel is so poignant that the author felt compelled to add an afterword, fearing that some readers might have the impression that he was exploiting recent tragedies for his own gain -- the fact is that several eerily similar events to those described here actually took place mere months after relevant sections of the novel had been written. These sorts of real-world coincidences only reinforce the very important truths and dangers given such careful, caring attention by Michael Paul and declare Excelsior not only an impressively thrilling read but an important one as well.

- Rambles
written by Daniel Jolley
published 28 August 2004

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