The 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.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Bizarre aliens and mysterious technologies are rife in this sequel to former NASA scientist Lee's first solo novel, Bright Messengers. Lee got his start in SF by co-authoring four novels with Sir Arthur Clarke, three of them sequels to Rendezvous with Rama, and the two books he's written on his own are both set in the Rama universe. In Bright Messengers, a group of colonists was rescued from certain death on Mars by a gigantic and mysterious alien spacecraft. Deposited on several islands within the spacecraft's inner sea, the humans have barely survived, fighting off hostile aliens as well as their own worst impulses. Now, led by Johann Eberhardt, former engineer and champion swimmer, the colonists are transported to a distant, seemingly benign planet with two moons. Eberhardt, however, is in periodic communication with someone or something that claims to be his long-dead love, Sister Beatrice of the Order of St. Michael, and this apparition has warned him that their new world will turn deadly in the near future when the two moons are full simultaneously. The colonists' survival evidently depends on Johann's ability to convince them that he has indeed spoken with Beatrice. Although this novel may appeal to admirers of the earlier Rama books, there's little here to attract new readers. Lee's prose is leaden, particularly his dialogue, and he exhibits a poor sense of pacing. Neither Johann nor any of the other colonists comes alive on the page -- a flaw that robs the novel of emotional depth or power, despite its handful of moderately successful action sequences.
VOYA - Tom Pearson
Gentry continues the story begun in Bright Messengers (Bantam Spectra, 1995/VOYA December 1995). Johann Eberhardt, chief engineer at the Mars water production facility, enters a sphere of mysterious origin with ten other colonists. One of the other passengers is Johann's priestess-bishop beloved, Beatrice. The sphere is both a paradise and a prison; the colonists receive what food and shelter they need to survive, but few answers about the sphere or the mysterious beings who constructed it. After Beatrice is raped by another colonist and dies in childbirth, Johann and the child are separated from the other colonists. Johann raises Maria as his own daughter on an island paradise. When Johann and Maria are forced to leave their home due to a potentially lethal life-form, they discover the other surviving colonists and for a time all is well. Their idyllic existence, however, is soon marred by dissension, jealousy, and Maria's increasingly erratic behavior. Johann then receives a warning from one of his captors, who has taken on Beatrice's persona: "Beware double full moon night." Johann must persuade his fellow colonists that the danger is real and imminent, even though he has not yet figured out what the danger is or how to escape it. Failure, Johann knows, means certain death for himself and those he loves. The smoothly flowing writing style is combined with a plot spiced with plenty of action. Readers learn a lot about the sphere and the colonists' captors, although some secrets remain unrevealed. Some of the characters, unfortunately, never become more than straw men used to drive the plot forward, while others by book's end are fully-formed individuals. Another good read set in the Rama universe of Lee and Arthur C. Clarke. VOYA Codes: 4Q 4P S A/YA (Better than most, marred only by occasional lapses; Broad general YA appeal; Senior High, defined as grades 10 to 12; Adult and Young Adult).
For eight years, Johann Eberhardt and his adopted daughter Maria have dwelled in seclusion inside a gigantic, spherical spaceship built by ribbonlike aliens and populated by a host of mysterious creatures. When a monstrous creature threatens their peaceful retreat, Johann and Maria set out in search of Johann's former companions--and discover more than they bargained for. This sequel to Bright Messengers (LJ 4/15/95) continues the adventures begun by sf veteran Arthur C. Clarke in his Rama novels. Lee's combination of sf and mysticism should appeal to fans of the original tales. Suitable for large sf collections.
Lee's sequel to Bright Messengers (1995) comes with a solid synopsis: eight years previously, engineer Johann Eberhardt, some Martian colonists, and a number of saintly Michaelite nuns, previously tantalized by particle-ribbon beings that the nuns regard as angels, entered a strange spacecraft and were whisked off into the unknown. Now Johann and his young daughter, Maria, live on an island in a sea inside a vast spaceship-until, forced to leave by the threat of the squidlike, perhaps intelligent, nozzlers, they find other survivors on another island, and exchange histories. Johann explains about his visions: the particle-beings have re-created his beloved Beatrice, who died in childbirth, as a glowing simulacrum that occasionally visits to offer advice. The island's other intelligent inhabitants, the small, furry maskets, ask Johann to help dispose of a troublesome predator. But soon the nozzlers grab everyone and confine them in a grotto. Glowing Beatrice appears, telling Johann that they're all traveling to a new planet with two moons. Here, years later, Beatrice reappears to warn Johann that something bad will happen on Double Full Moon Night, and what to do about it. He informs the others, but most don't believe in his visions and refuse to help-these are captured by insectlike bronkers, and vanish. Three decades pass; Johann falls off a cliff and must be abandoned to the bronkers. Only two teenagers survive, to be whisked away by yet another spaceship. Their daughter, another Maria, is eventually picked up by the alien, Eagle, aboard spaceship Rama. Eagle takes Maria to visit the particle-beings, who re-create Johann; he tells her about her family. Neither thedesultory plot nor the plodding prose generates much narrative tension: imaginative, sometimes, but this unengaging space odyssey's mostly just pointless.
From the Publisher
Praise for the Rama novels of Arthur C. Clarke and Gentry Lee:
"This is a space trip that no reader will want to miss."
"Offers one surprise after another."
The New York Times
The Garden of Rama:
"A fascinating mix of technology and humanity, soaring high into the mysteries of the universe and far into the depths of the soul."
The New York Times Book Review
"More than fulfills the awesome scale of size, alien presence and spiritual exploration that were introduced in Rendezvous With Rama 20 years ago."
The Indianapolis Star
Read an Excerpt
It was a terrible night. Johann stayed awake for over an hour, going over all his conversations with Maria since Hansel had been killed. Was there anything else he could do? He felt inept and inadequate. In one internal monologue he entreated Beatrice to reappear and give him some advice on how to handle the situation. Johann even seriously considered Maria's suggestion that he should hunt and kill the nozzler. At least I would regain my lost stature in her eyes, he thought, before dismissing such a venture as foolhardy.
When Johann finally fell asleep, he was awakened only a few minutes later by a bloodcurdling scream from the mat beside him. His heart pumping furiously and adrenaline pouring into his body, Johann was immediately alert and ready to protect his ward.
The girl had had a nightmare. She crawled over on Johann's mat and snuggled into his arms, still whimpering from fright. All Maria would say about the dream was that a nozzler had attacked Gretel and her while they were swimming.
Maria managed to fall asleep again quickly but Johann remained awake for another hour. Later, not long before morning, he had a dream so vivid that it took Johann a long time, even after he was awake, to convince himself that it was not real.
Johann had been in a deep green forest in the dream, following a yellow and black bird with a beautiful voice who was leading him to a magic mountain. The top of the magic mountain was hidden behind a barrier of flames. Johann understood in the dream that he needed to wade through the flames to reach the sleeping Brunhild, who would fall madly in love with him as soon as he awakened her with his kiss. But thesleeping woman on the mountaintop was not Brunhild; she was Beatrice, whose kisses after waking stirred Johann's sexual ardor. In the dream, as he tried to remove her clothes, Beatrice whispered "Not yet," and pointed off to her right. There, coming up the side of the mountain, was a huge, bizarre monster breathing fire. The monster vaguely resembled a dragon, but instead of hands this creature had hundreds of long blue tentacles with claws on the ends. Most of these tentacles were extended in Johann's direction. When he felt the first sharp touches on his neck Johann awakened with a shudder.
He did not sleep again. When the artificial daylight first lit the front of the cave, Johann checked the sleeping Maria and then jogged down toward the lake. He plunged into the water and began to swim. Within minutes, as his long body eased through the water, stroke after stroke, Johann felt his frustration and anxiety begin to lessen. Years of competitive swimming had made Johann completely comfortable in the water. After the initial release of pent-up energy, his body moved into an effortless rhythm so natural that it seemed to be totally disconnected from Johann's volition.
During these periods Johann's mind sometimes focused on a specific topic, but more often it drifted idly, serving up a potpourri of unrelated thoughts and images. Later, after fifteen to twenty minutes of steady swimming, Johann usually entered a slightly altered state of consciousness, one which a friend of his had once called "exercise nirvana." A sense of peace, harmony, and communion with the world around him pervaded Johann during this portion of his swim. This feeling of contentment, and the residual sense of well-being that often lasted the rest of the day, were the primary reasons that Johann swam every morning.
Johann was well into the nirvanic phase of his morning swim when he began to feel an unsettling disquiet whose origin he could not pinpoint. When it would not go away, he opened his eyes during his breathing. There was nothing unusual about the island landscape that greeted his eyes on the right side. On the other side, the lake extended to the horizon in an unbroken line. What was disturbing him, then? Johann was miffed at this intrusion into his most peaceful sanctuary and was about to dismiss his disquiet altogether when he happened to look more closely at the water. It was discolored.
Johann stopped swimming and examined the water around him. On an impulse he decided to taste it. The taste seemed familiar, but Johann could not identify it. Looking around, he could see that the discoloration increased off to his right, away from the island. Johann began swimming in that direction.
Just after Johann positively identified the strange taste as blood, he saw an unusual object about two hundred meters in the distance. The object was bobbing up and down in the small waves of the lake. At first Johann was wary of possible danger, but as he drew closer he became certain, from the object's lack of movement, that it was not alive.
When he first recognized Kwame's body, Johann could not believe what his eyes were telling him. But what in the world was that thing with Kwame? Johann continued to approach, swimming breaststroke so that he could keep the scene in view. Both surprise and horror swept through him moments later when he realized that Kwame was floating on the water, locked in a death embrace with one of the nozzler creatures who had attacked Hansel.
Kwame's knife was embedded deep in the frontal underbelly of the nozzler. Both of the creature's blue tentacles were wrapped around Kwame's back. One of its vicious claws, which was still affixed to the side of Kwame's neck, had obviously sliced through the jugular vein. The fight to the death had occurred not many hours earlier, probably sometime during the night. Blood was still oozing out of the many wounds in both Kwame and the nozzler (its blood was bright purple), and there were not yet any signs of rigor mortis in Kwame's body. Johann's feelings of grief were accompanied by a thousand questions that rushed into his mind. What was Kwame doing here? Johann asked himself. Where did he come from? Where are the others?
Johann swam in an ever-widening circle around the two corpses, searching for clues that might provide answers to his questions. He found nothing. When he returned to Kwame and the nozzler, he carefully inspected the alien creature.
The nozzler's body was long and thin, approximately as tall as Kwame, and consisted of ten identical middle segments with hard black carapaces that were connected to a broader head-and-chest segment in the front and a fanlike tail at the rear. Three oval, bulbous gray eyes were distributed uniformly in a line along the top of the turquoise-colored head-and-chest segment. The front two of these eyes were placed at an angle that suggested their primary look direction was forward; the third eye was positioned so that its natural field of view was to the rear. Along the sides of this front segment were three symmetrical pairs of attachments, the first pair being the long blue tentacles with the terrifying claws that could reach a full meter in front of the head, the second resembling a pair of circular washboards built against the side of the head next to the middle eye, and the back pair looking like clusters of tiny pearls on either side of the rear of the head.
The body of the nozzler narrowed slightly behind the frontal region, tapering into a centipedelike arrangement of the ten middle segments, each with the hard black carapace (above the body and partially around the sides) and a soft, fleshy underbelly with hundreds of flexible cilia extending below. The fanlike tail, which looked solid from a distance, was actually thirty or forty individual strips of textured material attached to a central nexus or ganglion located at the rear of the last of the middle segments.
Johann was fascinated by the nozzler. Although he was horrified by the sight of Kwame, the astonishing biology of the alien corpse piqued his curiosity. Surveying the entwined pair while continuing to tread the water, Johann decided that he would tow them together to the island so that he could study the nozzler more closely.
He heard Maria's frantic cries while he was still well offshore. When Johann had not returned to the cave at his normal time, the girl had panicked. Fortunately, she had had the good sense to search the water for him, and her keen eyes had located him far out in the lake. After first verifying that the local currents were insignificant, Johann left his discovery a hundred meters from the beach and swam into shore so that he could reassure the girl.
Johann's description of the dead pair was sufficient to send Maria into another bout of hysteria. No matter what he said, she insisted that the nozzler corpse should not, under any circumstances, ever touch their island.
"What if its friends or family should find it here," she said, "and somehow decide that we were responsible for its death? What would happen to us then?"
Johann's biological assessment that a nozzler was not a land animal was of no importance to Maria. She adamantly repeated that she never wanted to see "one of those things" again, dead or alive. There was no way that Johann could mitigate her fear.
He reluctantly swam back out to where he had left the pair of corpses and began the process of disconnecting Kwame from his foe. It was not an easy procedure. The tentacles around Kwame's back were still tight and Johann could not muster much strength while he was treading water. Eventually he separated the pair. Remembering his lifeguard training in Berlin, Johann swam back to the island with Kwame in tow.
Maria was pointing outward with a terrified look on her face when Johann finally reached the shore with Kwame. She did not scream. She did not say anything at all. Out where he had left the nozzler corpse, Johann saw churning water and as many as a dozen blue tentacles wafting through the air. After depositing Kwame's body on the sand near a grove of trees, Johann picked up Maria and carried her back to their cave.