David Marusek produced two brilliant science fiction novels in the '00s, Counting Heads (2005) and Mind Over Ship (2009), and then went dark for a few years.
He's back with the above-titled novel, the first of a projected three-parter.
In this installment an E.T. lands in the Alaska wilderness, planting mysterious artifacts encountered independently by a young park ranger, Jace Kuliak, and a Bible-quoting survivalist, Poppy Prophecy. The novel bounces between their points of view. Excellent and highly recommended with one minor quibble, discussed below.
Excerpts from the book published in a short story collection a few years ago introduced the park ranger character (then named Casey). He seemed to be the main POV and his narrative contained some of the novel's early exposition. The finished book, however, was apparently jiggered around to become mainly Poppy's story, beginning with scenes of his large, pioneer-style family coping in the Alaska outback. This is all fine, but Marusek has chosen to move some of the Jace material to what he calls "sidebars," something between footnotes and DVD "deleted scenes," which are placed at the end of the book and hyperlinked in the e-book text. This decision creates a few continuity issues.
In an introduction Marusek proclaims the sidebars "generally" not essential to the story but a couple of instances in the main narrative refer to events that happened in them (section headings from the book are used to identify these):
1. CW3 1.0 mentions the "mountain of grief unloaded on [Jace] and Danielle...on Lucky Strike Lane," referring to the shenanigans of Poppy Prophecy and family during a brief spell when they lived next door to Jace. Marusek describes those antics in the sidebar "Sex on a Glacier" (SG1 1.0); if you skip it, you have no idea what he's talking about.
2. More importantly, "Sex on a Glacier" gives the reader an objective description of what Poppy and his family look like to outsiders: a sizeable clan ("Dozens of children played in a yard already worn down to bare dirt... Older children tended goats in a makeshift pen or hauled water in plastic jerry jugs or helped prepare dinner at the fire pit") including three sons who are large and somewhat menacing ("In an instant, the three older boys were surrounding him. The eldest... was tall and dark. The middle one was heavyset and gentle looking. And the fiery youngest one was wearing a patch over his right eye. If Ben Cartwright of the Ponderosa and his sons had evil twins, these Prophecys could be them").
Reading the book from the beginning, from Poppy's POV, you don't know the sons are big fellows; Poppy describes them as "boys" and punishes one of them with a switch, creating the impression they're young adolescents, not grown men. Later descriptions eventually reveal their size but this seems more bug than feature.
3. CW2 1.0 in the main narrative also refers to the sidebar (SG1 1.0) descriptions of the "quarrelsome family" in the "lot next to [Jace's] house" that "pulled up stakes" and moved to a new location .
4. The "Sex on a Glacier" sidebar (SG1 1.0) refers to events in a later sidebar (HP1 1.0), confusing the chronology even more. Jace mentions the "odd pioneer family and their encampment" located at the "private parking lot at the end of McHardy Road." The Prophecys' brief control of a town parking is chronicled in the sidebar "A Herd of Picnic Tables" (HP1 1.0), which follows "Sex on a Glacier" at the end of the book.
5. The basic chronology of the Prophecy family, told asynchronously in the book and sidebars, is as follows: they travel from the Anchorage suburb of Palmer to a parking lot (which they camp out in and administer) in the smaller, more remote town of McHardy, then to the house next door to Jace (also in McHardy), then to an abandoned mine in a wilderness area outside of McHardy. The family's management of the parking lot and relocation to the mine are described in sidebars (HP1 1.0 and TM1 1.0, respectively). Well along in the main narrative, in a flashback, Poppy first learns about the town of McHardy and the parking lot is mentioned (LL4 1.0), again, without context. We aren't given any particulars of how the Prophecys actually obtained the parking lot concession when they first settled in McHardy.
Marusek has indicated that Book I may be revised at the time of publication of Books II or III of his saga. The above chronology could be clarified with a few paragraphs in the main story. It might be a good idea, at that time, for the author to kill his babies and ditch those sidebars. They're a distraction.
6. The main narrative (CW4 1.0) uses the phrase "go all kitten on them." This refers to an anecdote in a sidebar, "Kitten of Our Discontent" (KD1 1.0).