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Author: Ken Rand
Genre: Science Fiction
Reviewed by Tom Feller

548It must be hard to write a book like The Sands of Kalahari these days, because the author has to establish why the characters can't just whip out a mobile phone and call for help. Ken Rand gets around the problem by setting this survival novel on a desert planet fifty light years from the Earth and giving the main character plausible reasons why she has to think her way through problems rather than just relying on technology to keep her alive.

That main character is Anna Devlin, an elementary school teacher on a human colony on the planet Phoenix IV, where there is little rainfall but a breathable atmosphere. Her husband is Martin Devlin, administrator of this colony of 3,000 people. At the beginning of the book, she discovers that she is pregnant. She and Martin had conceived the child by what the book calls the old-fashioned method, sex rather than artificial insemination.

The future that Rand describes is technologically and scientifically very advanced. They have interstellar space travel, instantaneous communication across light years, nanotechnology, and other conveniences. Socially, on the other hand, this future is dystopian. Their world is divided into two classes. Anna and Martin are members of the upper class, called the Authority. Most of the colonists are from the lower class, called the Familia. Authorities are secular and materialistic, while the Familias are religious and dogmatic. When the Familias revolt, they force Anna and Martin to flee from the colony's largest settlement, a village of about 1,000 people called Tierra Natal.

Rand spends too many pages on their flight, because the story really doesn't begin until Anna is on her own in the desert, where the average daytime temperature reaches 120 degrees Fahrenheit. She can't call for help. First, the Familias have sabotaged the colony's communication systems. Second, there is no one left to help her. In the desert she learns to apply her own teachings of rational problem solving combined with the education needed for teaching elementary students. Anna is a competent woman, which places the book firmly in the tradition of Robert Heinlein and John W. Campbell. It really doesn't give away the plot to say that she succeeds, because there is a framing story set 35 years later in which she is an old woman telling her story to a teenager named Lisan Navarroclan.

The ecology of the planet is worked out in great detail, although it does suffer in comparison with Dune. There is no description of the physics of faster than light travel, except that people apparently do not suffer from relativistic effects. The latter really isn't important to the story, however.

In conclusion, I can recommend this book. It is a quick and enjoyable read, and I found that I cared about Anna and Martin and what their ultimate fates were.


May 19, 2004 in Science Fiction | Permalink


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