Planet of the Red Dust

planet dust

And Enoch walked with God: and he was not; for God took him.” –Genesis 5:24

When James Adams crash-lands on a planet he believed to be uninhabitable, the last thing he expects is to find intelligent life, let alone human life.  At the opening of the book Planet of the Red Dust by N. Tolman Rudolph, James is burying his dead crewmembers from the exploratory spaceship the Wayfarer. He is surprised to find breathable atmosphere, and he sets about burying the dead.  As he performs what little funeral services he can, he looks up to see two people–an old man and a woman in her twenties–garbed in old-style clothes and speaking a strange language.

It turns out that when Enoch was taken by God, a whole civilization was taken with him and brought to this planet.  It was originally just as habitable as Earth, but over time planetary catastrophes made it so that the surface of the planet Siona is only habitable during a few spring and summer months.  During the rest of the planet’s year, all citizens have to retreat into caverns deep beneath the surface, lit and warmed by mysterious sunstones that provide enough heat and warmth to grow trees and other plants underground.

Jared’s arrival is seen by the people of Sion as a sign by some that they will soon be returning to Earth, and by others an uncomfortable change.  But all becomes well as Jared is incorporated into the society, and as ancient texts are revealed to show that Jared’s coming was prophesied in ancient days.

I have no problem reading books with religious themes.  In fact, I prefer these sorts of lost civilizations due to God to others where humans just happen to be on a newly-discovered planet for some convoluted reason (I’m looking at you, Ringworld).  And usually I’d be all for, “God spirited away a civilization for their own good and placed them on another planet, and they will be returned like the Lost Tribes of Israel someday.”  But the reasons behind this are never made clear.  We never learn why God brought a civilization to another planet, or how.  Jared is prophesied to help them in times of famine, but he’s also prophesied to bring them back to Earth.  I half-expected to read about him discovering a spaceship underground, gathering the people a-la Moses to the spaceship, and taking them back, also a-la Moses, to the Promised Land.  And Jared does help the people with their food and water needs–he teaches them about cross-polinization of crops to grow better wheat, water drip systems, windmills, and wells.  But as for the rest…ah well.  Obviously what the author had in mind was not what I had in mind.

I feel a bit scattered as I write this review.  There’s a lot to cover, but I don’t want to take too long doing it.  There were so many things with amazing potential in this book–a lost civilization from Earth, Divine Intervention, romance and building a life when you’re cut off from the life you used to know.  But the author does it in a way that was frustrating to me.  There’s conflict when Jared is brought to Sion.  Should they kill him, or should they let him live?  The conflict comes and goes with very little emotional buildup, just like all the other events in the book.  Jared is sentenced to death for being new and different.  Oh wait, he’s not because the main woman in the story, Aaronia, fell in love with him at first sight and declares that she will marry him.  This causes much consternation to the king (which is actually a bit of emotional investment I appreciate), and he goes to study the ancient texts and finds the prophecy that matches Jared.  Everyone takes the fulfillment of the prophecy in stride, except Jared (which I do appreciate–he declares that there’s no way he can fulfill any prophecy instead of going, “Cool!  Let me rule, then.”), and now Jared is no longer sentenced to death.  All this sounds like it would cause emotional turmoil throughout this whole story arc, but it’s stated in such a passive way (without the use of passive voice) that it feels like someone was simply writing it in a journal.  There’s so much use of telling instead of showing that showing becomes a rare commodity reserved for things like childbirth and death.

This book takes place over several years, and while the author is good at passing long months in brief sentences, reading about the important in-between bits felt just like the passage of time as well.  And then, when things like marriages (two of which occur in the book, both of which take place as a brief couple-sentence summary of events) or deaths (also of which there are few) occur, there is no emotional payoff because the important character-building moments that should take place before feel like someone just told you in passing.  Maybe the style of writing just doesn’t sit right with me.  There are several other reviews out there where the readers state that they were completely invested in the characters, but I just couldn’t feel it.

Three quarters of the way through the book, more emphasis is placed on the scenes that occur.  Instead of this “passage of time” style of telling, we actually get dialogue, action and counteraction, and interaction between the characters.  I care more about a character that shows up in that last quarter of the book than any of the other characters, because we get to see her interact with others, and reflect on herself, far more completely than anywhere else throughout the book.  It’s a shame that it took me a week to read through the first three quarters of the book and an hour or two to read through the last quarter–my reading speed is dependent on my emotional investment in any book I’m reading.  I didn’t put the book down and forget about it, but I didn’t really care to know what happened next.

There are several other reviews that can be found on Amazon that speak highly of this book.  Perhaps you will enjoy it.  It reads more like the historical fiction books I’ve come across than Sci-Fi, and I’m not the biggest fan of historical fiction.  So if you like historical fiction, you may like this book.  Some of the reviews mention a sequel in the works, which makes sense based on where the book ends, but I can’t find any mention of a sequel outside of those reviews.  Here’s what I recommend: if the premise sounds interesting, see if you can get it at your local library or rent it from Kindle Unlimited.  Then, if you find it enjoyable enough, go ahead and buy it.  It’s not a terrible book, but in my opinion it’s not amazing either.  It’s sort of meh.  I’d give it three stars.

~ * ~

Norma Tolman Rudolph, was born and raised in the wilds of Wyoming where she spent far too much time alone as a child making up silly day dreams in her head.

She served a mission for her church, got a degree from Brigham Young University in fine arts, married a sculptor, and then, realizing that two artists of that variety in one family were too many, she turned her art into words.

Buy Planet of the Red Sun at WiDo Publishing or Amazon, and follow N. Tolman Rudolph at her blog, Norma’s Novels.

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