“Come to me, Shawne. Let me tell you a story of how it all began. I’ll tell you the Song of Time and Beginnings…Suddenly, as if the thought were too powerful or the yearning for beauty too great—there was Existence: A violent seething mass of all that would create Time, becoming.”
The Archives of Varok, by Cary Neeper, consists of three books, The View Beyond Earth, The Webs of Varok, and The Alien Effect, with a fourth on the way. When I found these books on Cheap Kindle Books and told Cary Neeper that I was interested in reviewing the second book in the series, she graciously sent me the first as well, so this will be a compound review of the two of them. Both were excellent in their own ways and I am thrilled to be able to write about them now.
“No tears, Tandra. Life is lived well by many other stars. You have gone beyond Earth, eh? Human beings will leave a fascinating fossil record for those to come.”
In the first book of the series, The View Beyond Earth, Tandra Grey discovers that there is intelligent life out there after all, and it wants her. The microbiologist is recruited by a man in a space suit, who turns out to not be a man at all, to do some groundbreaking research…on the moon. She travels to space with her adopted daughter Shawne to study whether or not alien and human hosts are able to transmit viruses to each other, in preparation for the two alien species on the moon base to make contact with Earth. While she is there, she has a lot to learn about inter-species relationships and cultural diversity. The ellls are a fun-loving aquatic species appearing to be a sort of humanoid frog hybrid. They live and swim in large schools and thrive on contact and closeness. The varok, on the other hand, are much more physically similar to humans, aside from protruding organs on their heads which allow them to communicate telepathically with each other and the other species of Varok. As a result of their close mental links, varok abhor physical contact with all but those they are closest too. Humans fall somewhere between the two species mentally and emotionally. It is up to Tandra, Conn the elll, and Orram the varok to do the impossible and convince the humans of Earth to accept guidance and help from the stars before it is too late to save their planet.
In The Webs of Varok, Orram, Conn, Tandra, and Shawne have returned to Varok as a family unit after failing to convince Earth to adopt a steady state economy. Tandra serves as a correspondent for Earth, showing her home planet just how things work on Varok. Trouble is brewing on the Jovian moon, however, and things are much bleaker than they were when Conn and Orram left. Among a species that is capable of telepathic communication and mood reading, there is no such thing as a lie and no way to hide dishonesty. When a brilliant varokian scientist learns to shield her mind from others, she starts a chain of events that may prove to destroy the steady state and the ecological balance those on Varok have worked so hard to achieve.
“To contain five intelligent, communicative species—each with conflicting demands—has always been Varok’s problem.”
Varok is a moon of Jupiter and home to multiple species of aliens and creatures. There are the varok that I described above and the ellls who come from Ellason, an aquatic world not far from Varok. There are also the ahlork, a winged reptilian species said to be the oldest inhabitants of the planet, and the Great Fish, who are held as the wisest species on Varok although they are unable to communicate in a spoken language. The daramounts are a sentient species somewhere between a dog and a camel physically, who offer denizens of Varok transportation in exchange for food and kindness. There are also unique creatures and flora on Varok, including the web stalks. Neeper has clearly put a lot of effort into building an entire incredible world on Varok. Instead of being content to focus more on the characters and let the logistics of the planet fall to the wayside, as often happens in science fiction, she has taken pains to create a number of unique species that have intricately different cultures, physical forms, and psychologies and to explain exactly how they all interact with each other and their environment.
Our family bonds were working, weaving us ever tighter as a team. Orram was my soul mate, joined with me in mind, fulfilling his deepest varokian need. And Conn—what can I say about an aquatic biped who can bat his billiard ball eyes like that?
One of the truly amazing things about these two books is the way they explore attraction on every level. There are relationships between characters who are experiencing romantic, platonic, sexual, and aesthetic attraction to different characters in different ways. In addition, Tandra and Conn go through a series of conflict and changes in attraction while learning to relate to each other across the species barrier before settling into a familial bond of brother and sister. Tandra’s adopted daughter Shawne is becomes the daughter of the entire family unit and Orram’s mother becomes like a mother to all three of them and a grandmother to Shawne. I found this very refreshing after reading so many books in the past that barely skim any type of attraction other than sexual or romantic and makes no effort to differentiate between the two.
Another way Cary Neeper has set herself apart with her work is by not shying away from sensitive political issues in the world-building she has done for Varok. The entire series advocates very strongly for a change in the way we approach our economy and environmentalism on Earth by modeling a successful steady state on Varok. In very basic terms, a steady state economy is one that stems from the realization that unchecked economic growth is destructive to human populations, natural resources, and the ecological health of the planet. The steady state advocates for a zero-growth model both in the economy and human population and a careful management of resources. Varok is an excellent model of what such a system would look like in practice and Neeper raises some very interesting points about the future of Earth if we continue to grow unchecked. For more information about the steady state, you can check out this website or an essay that Neeper herself wrote on the Varok steady state economy.
[stars color=”blue” number=”five” width=”300px”]
The Archives of Varok tell the story of a group of aliens coming together and forming a family, despite great differences in their physical appearances, habits, psychology, and cultures. I enjoyed everything about these books, from the writing to the plot to the characters. Cary Neeper did a wonderful job of putting a fresh spin on the alien invasion story, offering visitors from space who just want to help Earth avoid the same problems they themselves faced in the past. These two books were a joy to read and definitely earned the five stars I have given them.