Saturday, October 31, 2015

Children of the Comet by Donald Moffitt--New Release by Author of the Genesis Quest Series and The Mechanical Sky Series!

Book Review by:
Sharon Powers.

     I hung on every word he spoke. Suddenly, so suddenly I hardly realized it, maybe like being unable to sleep and suddenly you find it is morning and you open your surprised eyes to greet the day. Maybe like working on your computer for a little while drafting a few e-mails, or letters, or...whatever, look up and suddenly discover three hours have past, and you never knew it.

     I almost felt like I was sitting by a campfire listening to someone telling a story about some legend or myth in the local area. But "his" words, they bore into me, until it seemed to me like I was awake; really awake.

     Yet the the stories he spoke were little stories from various parts of the world, from every culture and era. As the words fell onto my ears, they bored into me, worming their way into my heart, and warming my very being. The "Truth Speaker" was Joseph Campbell speaking about his book, the The Power of Myth with Bill Moyers on public television--about myth and the hero's journey. [2] As Joseph Campbell puts it in the televised show, I was caught by them (these stories and words). [3]

     It was after reading Donald Moffitt's book, Children of the Comet, that Joseph Campbell came to mind, again. I thought about rites of initiation, The Tree of Life, and the hero beginning their hero's journey by being thrust out of their little place of security into an unknown world. Let me share with you why Donald Moffitt's book resonates with me just as Joseph Campbell's stories did. Before we discuss more, here is a short synopsis of Moffitt's book:
Here is a gigantic tree in space; although, this tree
doesn't look exactly like the one described in
Moffitt's story, it is a tree in space. In the story the
tree attaches itself to an ice comet and because
of little gravity and the orbitational pull of the
comet, the tree grows to an astronomical height.
The tree is life for the people of Torris's tribe: their
food, wood for implements, and even spiritual
awakening for their young men in their initiation
into manhood. It is their tree of life. [5]

     As a large comet flies its ordained orbit; on it, a gigantic tree of immense proportions, adapting to life on the comet, grasps the ice, sending its roots down into the frozen orb. A small tribe of people live on this remarkable "world." Life, a daily rugged and hard-fought existence, is made bearable through the tribe's ingenuity and difficult labor.

     Torris, one of the tribe's young men, will soon be ready for initiation into manhood--to become a man, he must climb the monumental tree and have a "vision dream" given to him by the tree, then make the long climb back down to the comet's surface. Torris will then present his dream to the priest.

     Daily life for Torris and his family means a life of very little gravity, frozen air that must be harvested, thawed and captured in a pouch, for later use. All must wear a kind of homemade space suit, stitched and glued together to hold the breathable air. Hunting, also must be done; though in Torris's world it is hunting in the branches of the tree. All hunters must take care, or the prey they hunt could turn the tables on them and quickly the hunter could become the meal.

Just like this artful rendition of Jack-in-the
Beanstalk, Torris and Ning climb towards
the top, all the while facing many dangers.
Perhaps those dangers end up being larger
than expected, but they keep climbing,
     The rites of initiation decree no hunter should help or hinder another, but when Torris begins his climb up the trunk and branches of the tree, he finds more than flutterbeasts and meatbeasts with which he must contend. A mysterious climber keeps to the shadows and trails Torris. While Torris watches for glimpses of the mysterious hunter who follows him, Torris acquiesses to a period of sleep. In the dead of night, the mysterious hunter, sneaks in and steals Torris's supplies.  What the thief doesn't need, he destroys; for this any hunter would be branded for the sacrilegious waste and cast out into space.

     When Torris wakes he is devastated to see his supplies gone, but he immediately starts anew, collecting the things he will need from the tree and crafting new tools. Torris has a second encounter with a hunter, but this time, with a much different result. Torris finds himself suddenly caught and upside down in a snare similar to that of Luke Skywalker in the ice cave on planet Hoth (Star Wars). Oh, yes...the hunter who catches him is a woman! Discovering that the female hunter is not the one who stole from him, they band together to reach the tree's topmost branches--Torris for his dream quest and the female hunter, called Ning, to get food for her family.

     The two hunters will encounter great flutterbeasts, meatbeasts, and fight for their lives as they set their hearts for the top of the tree. Will their quests end abruptly, interrupted, yet again, by the mysterious sacrilegious tracker? Throw into the mix an alien starship, a murder most foul, aliens capturing Torris, bride raids that threaten not only a nearby tree comet but Torris's, as well. With the Earth now dead, will its children survive as Children of the Comet? Or, will the remnants of the human race and other arriving starships end in destruction and a free-for-all grab for survival and dominance?

     As I mentioned, above,Joseph Campbell's work instantly came to mind when I read about the comet and the gigantic world tree growing on it and, of course, Torris's journey to become a man through tribal tribal initiation. I found a short video for you (four minutes), to see what I mean--in Joseph Campbell's own words. [3]


     As Campbell said in the video, "Life is always on the edge of death, always!" And that is where Torris and Ning find themselves. Just as in the synopsis, the two are threatened on every side by flutterbeasts (to avoid being eaten by them), meatbeasts (to catch for food), mysterious trackers who follow the two hunters, a murder that takes place, their, Torris's and Ning's, tribes (bride raids and impending war), and eventually strange aliens in a huge space ship. And remember, even the elements threaten the young people--lack of air (for their homemade space suits), gravity (or the lack of it) in falling from the great tree's branches and even the freezing cold. Indeed, for Torris and Ning, their "Li[ves are] always on the edge of death!"

     This technique that Donald Moffitt uses is nothing short of wonderful. He builds tension as we (the readers) follow Torris as he faces challenges that could change everything, not only for himself, but for his comet tribe and others. We also know that an ultimate challenge awaits Torris in his journey. Moffit makes the whole story exciting and anticipatory right up until the climax, at which point he gently moves to close the book.

     Moffitt's book, Children of the Comet, had me thinking of what I had learned years ago from a college class. We see "the world tree," "rights of initiation" "masks (in the form of space head gear)," "the hero's journey," itself, just to name a few. Also, know that Torris's father is important in the tribe, all on his own as "Facemaker" for the initiates who succeed and come back to the tribe, he markes their faces as a sign of adulthood.

     Lastly, looking at the book cover can tell you a lot about a book if you look closely enough...and think about it. Moffitt's book has a modernistic space helmet and a bow and arrow superimposed, one upon the other. The background looks black, until you look at the edges and see stars and realize that it is outerspace. A rather odd pairing of images, don't you think? One of the approaching spaceships is called, "Celestial Arrow."

     Do you wonder how arrows fit into the story? Also, did you wonder about those images when you first saw the cover of the book. What did you think about the disparate images? If you decide to read this book think about the images as you proceed through the pages.

     I was a bit worried about the book, but only at first, because the book seemed a little slow to develop. I think the opening sections could have been condensed and still provide the atmosphere and setting for the story. I did find Moffitt's style of writing to be eminently readable. It felt comfortable and smooth, with no verbose or overly long sentences or paragraphs. His use of language and word choice is very subtle, but understandable and easy to move through.

     And then, as I read on, I began thinking that Donald Moffitt's story had become for me one of the most innovative and creative stories I've ever read. What a creative mind he had to craft such striking images, and excitement in a story. Without giving more of the plot away, I have to tell you that I found this book to be so rare in its originality, that I've never read another like it.

     Also, in this wonderful book you will find many things to consider besides what we have discussed, today. I especially enjoyed the superb way Moffitt contrasted the roles of women in the different societies and tribes. Really, food for thought! Another consideration is "time." The beginning and end of worlds, and the time given them. One spaceship is named "Time's Beginning." Very apropos as time is a major consideration  throughout the book. (Sorry, no more juicy hints than that.) "Gravity" plays throughout the book as well as the other themes and motifs, as well as being cast out, shunning and rebirth.

     As well as Joseph Campbell, I fell in love with the words of Black Elk of the Oglala Sioux. Joseph Campbell, in his work, spoke of Black Elk and other Indian tribes, their stories and myths. The quote I leave you, here, is very much appropriate as a tie in to today's book. By the way, if you haven't read about Black Elk, or read any of his words, I urge you to do so. Here's the quote:
I was standing on the highest mountain of them all, and round about beneath me was the whole hoop of the world. And while I stood there I saw more than I can tell and I understood more than I saw; for I was seeing in a sacred manner the shapes of all things in the spirit, and the shape of all shapes as they must live together like one being. And I saw that the sacred hoop of my people was one of many hoops that made one circle, wide as daylight and as starlight, and in the center grew one mighty flowering tree to shelter all children of one mother and one father. And I saw that it was holy...but anywhere is the center of the world. [10]
     Very much akin to Torris and his dream quest to the top of the gigantic tree. These holy dreams are messages to be taken to the priest or holy man and deciphered as a guide for life. Here, though, Black Elk is the holy man and he speaks to the people and tells them about the "center of the world." If you are excited enough to read this book, you will understand--no more juicy tidbits about the book--sorry.

     We have covered a lot of material in Donald Moffitt's book, today. I wish we had more time to talk, but we always have next time to cover more exciting reading material. By the way, next time we will be leaving science fiction and taking a trip into history; we will be looking at Richard Brooks' title, The Knight Who Saved England: William Marshal and the French Invasion, 1217." What an amazing true story.

     As I have indicated, above, I really enjoyed Donald Moffitt's new title, Children of the Comet. This book from NetGalley deserves a great rating; so, based on everything I have indicated, above, I rate this book 5 stars. Even with the minor problems with the opening, I believe this wonderful book deserves a great rating.

     Thank you for joining me, today. I sincerely appreciate you reading and considering the material I have provided for you in this post. As always, if you have any comments or questions, please contact me here, or on twitter. Please join me next time as we delve into history with William Marshal and learn how Marshal saved England from the France's invasion.

I hope everyone's Halloween was safe and fun for all.
Until next time...
This flower is a white, with red center Rose of Sharon.[14]

...many happy pages of reading!

My love to you all, my reading friends!


[1] "Children of the Comet." Retrieved 10-18-15.
[2] "The Power of Myth." [Joseph Campbell] Retrieved 10-22-15.
[3] "Joseph Campbell's Hero's Journey Abridged." Retrieved 10-20-15.
[4] "Are You Monomythic? Joseph Campbell and the Hero's Journey." [image only from: 06-25-14; the conversation; by craig Batty] Retrieved 10-31-15.

[5] "Mythology: The Stranger the Better." [selphyrthefae] Retreived 10-18-15.
[6] "Jack and the Beanstalk." [by yusef-abonamah] Retrieved 10-29-15.
[7] "NetGally." Retrieved 10-31-15.
[8] "Arrow." Retrieved 10-31-15.
[9] "Creative Thinking." Retrieved 10-31-15.
[10] "The Sunset." Retrieved 10-30-15.
[11] "Black Elk Speaks." [image only] [John G. Neihardt] Retrieved 10-31-15.
[12] "The Knight Who Saved England: William Marshal and the French Invasion, 1217." 
Retrieved 10-31-15.
[13] "Five Shooting Stars." Retrieved 10-31-15.
[14] "White Rose of Sharon Gifts." Retrieved 10-17-15.