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Story Time Review by
Garrett Peck
By James A. Moore
Meisha Merlin Publishing
TPB 378 pp
ISBN: 1-892065-40-1

"In these days where our constitutional rights are slowly being eroded and we become less of a democracy and more of a National Security state, these are all issues that deserve a great deal more thoughtful attention than they're getting from corporate media and an apathetic public."


James A. Moore, a former secretary and vice-president of the Horror Writers Association, penned one of the ten best horror/dark fantasy novels of last year with Under the Overtree. This character-driven story full of mainstream sensibilities proved he was ready to join the big leagues. Indeed, this novel has been picked up by Leisure and will see mass-market release this year. In the meantime, Meisha Merlin Publishing is launching his follow-up, FIREWORKS. This novel is further proof that Moore is no longer just a writer to watch, but has graduated to "must-read" status.

FIREWORKS is the story of a town - Collier, Georgia - that's in the wrong place at the wrong time. During the annual Fourth of July fireworks celebration, an enormous alien craft crashes into Oldman's Lake. This results in well over a hundred deaths and just as many severe injuries. Unfortunately for the citizens of Collier, this UFO has been tracked by the ultra-secret government agency Project Onyx. Soldiers, armored with black suits, helmets that hide their faces, breathing apparatuses and heavy weaponry, descend on the town and put it under quarantine. Nobody comes in, nobody goes out. Not even the severely injured or tourists just in town for the show. All become prisoners, subject to martial law. Their constitutional rights are suspended. The government concocts a cover story involving a non-existent terrorist to keep the media at bay. Completely cut off from the outside world, the rage of the patriotic citizens grows as more and more of their freedoms are taken away, all in the name of National Security. Soon the people of Collier begin to question if they'll ever be allowed to leave, or if they'll all be slaughtered to keep the government's secret.

Moore tells his story through three viewpoints, allowing him to examine the situation he's created from various perspectives. A prelude familiarizes the reader with Collier and some of the characters they'll be meeting, as well as giving us the dope on the folks with Project Onyx. Book One tells the story through the eyes of Police Chief Frank Osborn. His authority mostly usurped by the soldiers, he becomes the liaison between the occupying army and the citizens he is sworn to protect. In this segment Moore explores the often tense relations between federal and local authorities. His sleepy Georgia town becomes a microcosm of the battle over States' Rights. Book Two tells us Karen's story, giving us the civilian perspective. Book Three: Jack's story gives us the view of one of the Project Onyx soldiers, who lived in Collier many years before and is forced to question his orders when he sees what his unit is doing to the town he once called home. In between these segments are several Interludes, giving us the omniscient take. This narrative structure allows Moore to examine the many issues his story raises in a more focused way then simply switching tense throughout the story.

And he certainly does raise plenty of topical concerns, ranging from conspiracy theories about black ops to race and class relations, gun rights and the true meaning of patriotism. In these days where our constitutional rights are slowly being eroded and we become less of a democracy and more of a National Security state, these are all issues that deserve a great deal more thoughtful attention than they're getting from corporate media and an apathetic public. Moore digs his claws in deep into the readers' minds, forcing them to think even as he entertains them. Stephen King touches on a lot of these same themes in his latest novel, Dreamcatcher, but Moore's more tightly focused novel does a far better job in exploring them.

Despite the science fictional device of the alien spacecraft, this is much more of horror-novel-cum-political-thriller. The aliens themselves are not revealed and the purpose of their visits to earth is not among Moore's concerns. The spacecraft is simply the McGuffin that creates the real conflicts of his story. Man's inhumanity to man is a far more interesting theme than xenophobia ever was. If you're looking for yet another aliens-invade-the-earth novel, this isn't it. If you want an involving and intelligent novel about serious sociological, political and interpersonal issues, however, you couldn't do much better.

Four BookWyrms.


This review copyright 2000 E.C.McMullen Jr.

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