Upon This Rock: Book 1 – First Contact, David Marusek (A Stack of Firewood Press 978-0-9988633-0-6, $9.99, 574pp, eb). June 2017.
David Marusek’s first big impact on the SF/F landscape was 2005’s Counting Heads, a book about genetic engineering peopled with strong, interesting characters and a meandering yet purposeful plot. The sequel Mind Over Ship dropped four years later. Then, apart from publishing a couple of quiet short story collections, Marusek stepped back from the business for reasons that have never been completely clear.
He’s back with Upon This Rock: Book 1 – First Contact, which he has self-published. The story is set in Alaska, where Marusek lives, and shot through with the sense of isolation, jaw-dropping beauty, and rugged individualism for which the state is known.
Ranger Jace Kuliak witnesses what he thinks might be the start of an alien invasion out in the forest. Self-styled mouthpiece of God Poppy Prophecy witnesses the same event and concludes it’s a message from the Lord that the last days have begun. The conflict between those two points of view drive the plot.
The problem, however, is how much of the book is devoted to Marusek noodling around with telling voluminous stories about Alaska and these men and the park service and tourism and religion. While Marusek’s prose is fun to read, it takes a good long time to really get any sense that this story is going someplace. Then, by the time the plot picks up speed, this volume of what clearly is a larger saga just sort of ends without resolving much of anything.
That isn’t to say it’s an unpleasant experience – Marusek is a really good writer – just that Upon This Rock aspires to be a Faulknerian glimpse of all of the lives in a unique part of the world. If you’re prepared to settle in and enjoy all of the diversions into, say, a couple of the characters’ masturbatory habits, without feeling like the plot is advancing at all, then this series is for you.
Adrienne Martini has been reading or writing about science fiction for decades and has had two non-fiction, non-genre books published by Simon and Schuster. She lives in Upstate New York with one husband, two kids, and one corgi. She also runs a lot.
This review and more like it in the October 2017 issue of Locus.