a review by Steve Cameron
Publisher: Random Static
Sometime in the far future, mankind has travelled beyond the limitations of our solar system and into the galaxy. We are not alone, but we are not the dominant species, and certainly not valued or respected. We are, in fact, seen as little more than vermin, scurrying around in the walls of ships as they sail between distant stars and ridiculed by alien races as nothing more than “Barking Squirrels.” On an unnamed moon, a group of humans live in a network of underground caverns. A shipful of the dominant alien race one day appears, and it appears as though they are determined to hunt down the humans and colonise the moon. Why would they venture onto a world where they are so ill-suited to the gravity? Is there something in particular they hope to achieve? It seems as though there is no hope for the future of our race until an unlikely group of trades-people and their apprentices stand up to the alien threat.
Van Belle was the recipient of the Sir Jules Vogel award for best new talent in 2007, and has been shortlisted for these awards every year since. And it’s easy to see why. The writing is clear and crisp, with well constructed, realistic characters. They have depth and personality, intelligent dialogue and, most importantly, clearly recognisable human traits. To call this a novel is a bit of a misnomer, however, as it appears to be a collection of short stories. Or at least episodes in a single over-riding arc. As such, I found the flow a little uneven due to the changing point of views and narrative styles. The storytelling is fairly light-hearted, with a slight erotic touch thrown in (a continuing fascination in women’s underwear and breasts) which some will find more amusing than others. Random Static is quietly producing quality writing from New Zealand, and I’ve heard already has a Barking Death Squirrels sequel slated for release.
This article was previously published in Dark Matter issue 3, April 2011, and predated on this website to reflect the original publication date.