R.G. Roane,
The Delphinus Chronicles
(Cherry Hill, 1998)

The scene opens in Europe, in an undisclosed ancient time. There is an escape attempt, some brutal undescribed masters and a tantalizing hint of alien motivations. The next chapter shifts entirely into the present, where a professor is planning research with the aid of a supercomputer and some graduate student slave labor. These are only the first two stories that R.G. Roane tries to fit into the small, crowded world of The Delphinus Chronicles.

At first The Delphinus Chronicles feels like a fine fit for its pages. Prof. Ross Ericson nabs a retired supercomputer for research among his graduate students. A series of coincidences leads to communications with dolphins in the aquarium next door, and the scientists are delighted to discover the cetaceans are just as intelligent as could be hoped. The growing delight of the scientists' diplomatic explorations are matched by the growing menace of Jacob Zaccaria, the egomaniacal boyfriend of student researcher Laura Adams. Watching Jacob's brutality stalk unthinkingly nearer the naive, intellectual haven of Dr. Ericson and his students creates ample tension, heightened by increasing hints that the dolphins' shared information is not all benign. Suggestions of greater intrigue offer hope that the introductory chapter will be explained.

And then the story hurtles out of control. The dolphins go from parsing out information in tantalizing drabs to countering every bit of knowledge science has about human evolution on Earth. Jacob's subtle human menace is overwhelmed by paper-thin agents of a shadow government that makes the Illuminati seem accessible. The ending ties some threads together, but too much is left unexplained or discarded for it to feel satisfying. None of the last mad rush contradicts the earlier story. Roane seeds small and large hints to the eventual chaos throughout the first few chapters of his tale. The menace of the shadow government and the dolphins' revelations could all fit easily, if they just had more room to develop. There's an epic story here, but an epic needs room and time to sprawl. Condensed to hardly more than a novella, it can't help seeming like a collection of snapshots, confusing glimpses of a giant tapestry.

A smaller but more nagging problem lies in the behavior of the characters. Dr. Ericson and his students are supposed to be scientists, or at least academics. Yet as soon as contact with dolphins is made, all their critical thinking disappears and they accept each new story as divine truth. Scientists have certainly been quick to accept oddities and downright frauds before, but they've also been known to argue for years over the meaning of a notch in a fossilized molar. Their wholehearted acceptance of the dolphins' words could be explained away, but never is, and it does a disservice to the hero's intelligence. Again, it seems like a problem of time. Debate eats up a lot room, and The Delphinus Chronicles are already busting their covers.

Any one of the many tales in The Delphinus Chronicles is worth following, and the main tale of Ericson and his students builds enough momentum to rocket over any rough patches. It's not an unpleasant story, and certainly not a bad reward for the investment of attention it demands. With luck, Roane won't lower his goals for his next novel, or try to hold himself in, but come back with an epic and some room to sprawl.

- Rambles
written by Sarah Meador
published 23 August 2003

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