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From Barnes & NobleThe Barnes & Noble Review
In Double Full Moon Night, the sequel to the highly praised Bright Messengers, author Gentry Lee reintroduces readers to the gigantic white spacecraft that might be a visitor from another planet or a harbinger from heaven. The Rama node, first seen in Arthur C. Clarke's Rendevous with Rama, is itself a small world full of alien life forms and mysterious, perhaps even mystical incidents. Once again, with great concentration on the finest of details, Lee manages to provide a deeply poetic, absorbing novel that takes traditional questions of existence in the universe and presents them with a unique amalgam of science fiction, theological debate, and outright eerie suspense.
Some background first: When the Rama nodes entered our universe, the world was divided on whether the great ships were piloted by aliens or were messengers from God. After the global depression of the 22nd century left the world economy shattered, the Order of St. Michael grew upon the belief that the spheres were divine in nature and followers should do all they could to ease humanity's suffering. Sister Beatrice, a priestess of St. Michael, encountered white ribbons of light that she believed to be angels. Johann Eberhardt, a German engineer, studied the spheres with the eye of a scientist steeped in logic. After traveling to Mars to aid colonists there, Johann and Beatrice met and were taken aboard one of the gigantic craft, along with several other colonists. Once inside, Johann and Beatrice were separated from the others and lived on a beautiful island they called Paradise, where theysoonfell in love. Beatrice refused to break her vows of chastity, however, and was raped by one of her fellow travelers, Yasin, who managed to come ashore to Paradise after being expelled from a distant land. Johann killed Yasin, but Beatrice became pregnant and died during childbirth. Johann swore to protect Beatrice's daughter, Maria, and encountered a being who might have been the ghost of Sister Beatrice, a figure who told him that eventually all would be explained.
Double Full Moon Night begins eight years later, with Johann having taught Maria everything about her benevolent mother and nothing of her evil father. Johann has carved her an intricate set of figurines representing all the missing colonists, so that he might teach her earth history and geography and help her to develop in a social environment, even if it's only in her imagination. Johann and Maria have a comfortable life on the island, playing with kindly porpoiselike sea creatures called Hansel and Gretel, until the multitentacled "nozzlers" begin to attack. Johann finds the corpse of one of the lost colonists in the water, locked in a death-grip with a nozzler. He realizes that the others must have survived and probably live on the other side of the ocean. Unsure of whether this is the sign that the ghostly Beatrice has asked him to wait for, Johann builds a boat and prepares to depart. Before the launch, Maria discovers that the ribbons of light have painted the boat white and red, the same colors as the vast starship they're currently inside. They begin their journey across the water and battle nozzlers along the way before finally reaching land and discovering the other members of their group, including the former prostitute Vivienne, Sister Beatrice's onetime acolyte.
Vivienne, though, is no longer a member of the Order of St. Michael, having chosen to marry and bear children instead. Many of the original kidnapped colonists are now dead, but several children have been born. After a brief courtship, Vivienne and Johann are married, and soon he finds that he's going to be a father. After a number of adventures in which Johann meets alien creatures known as maskets and helps them defeat an awful enemy, the nozzlers again attack and force the remainder of the colony into a grotto, where they're imprisoned in caves. Some characters previously thought to be dead are found to be alive and trapped in the complex cave system. Johann attempts to escape and is isolated from his pregnant wife, yet when he is at his most desperate, the spirit of Sister Beatrice returns and tells him that they are all about to begin another strange journey.
Style, minutiae, and well-wrought characterization are of primary concern to the author, who knows how to compound elements into an intriguing mixture of personal responsibility, action, and moral dilemma. Showing how Maria uses her figurines to relate to her environment and the earth history of her extended family is an engaging and honest device. Social contact is unknown to the girl except through her imagination, and the growing friction between her and the others is a subtle but intricate plot element. At times the reader is likely to feel somewhat like Maria, connected to this bizarre world only through characters caught in extremely puzzling circumstances that have no apparent link to each other. Gentry Lee's storytelling ability is the height of form, but his technique is built upon story threads begun in earlier novels that are so slowly unveiled (if they are unveiled at all) that readers unfamiliar with the Rama universe and Bright Messengers might find themselves a bit overwhelmed by chunks of exposition and quickly covered plot elements.
The journey is a fascinating one, though: a mixture of philosophical grandeur and the foibles and fears that often make mankind the oddest of all species. Lee's sensitive attention to dialogue, attitude, and poignant realizations are always of interest. Even in the most alien landscape, the emphasis remains on the human condition: thirst for knowledge, protection of loved ones, and the hope of a heaven. The reader will be wound into an intricate and sensational series of thoughtful, emotional explorations of human existence.