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Paragaea : A Planetary Romance
Reviewed by Joe Crowe, © 2008

Format: Book
By:   Chris Roberson
Genre:   Burroughsian adventure
Review Date:   May 13, 2008
RevSF Rating:   8/10 (What Is This?)

"All I want from life is a comfortable bed, clean, dry clothes, a little coin in my pocket, and a bit of excitement from time to time. All that I can secure for myself without terrible difficulty without peeling back the the secrets of the universe." -- Hieronymus Bonaventure

This book has a jaguar man, a cosmonaut, and a guy with a sword. I need nothing further.

Paragaea has animal-men, androids, fightin', and killin' in a fantasy world where such things are commonplace. It has clever takes on the standards of high fantasy and sword 'n sorcery.

Roberson's twist is he takes a right turn from the real world to get there. The lead character is a female cosmonaut in the 1960s, and a chunk of the book is about her role and work in Soviet culture. When her space mission goes awry, as space missions in sci-fi stuff so often do, we've been in the real world so deeply with her that the otherness of Paragaea is captivating.

The book has so many of the things I like from novels and comics of my kidhood. For instance:

1. Animal men. Thun the Lion Man from Flash Gordon and Chewbacca are excellent. It's because animals aren't bound by human rules, so they can more freely abandon human-style ideals, so the fightin' and killin' is more fun.

2. Made-up names for stuff. Don't call something a forest. Call it "Altrusia." The technical part is it shows the writer has a sense for detail. The visceral part is, it sounds niftier.

3. Genre conventions. Some call these "tropes" or "cliches." I call those people "pretentious." An adventure story is supposed to have outlandish creatures and characters in it. This one has snake-men, a zeppelin that you know isn't going to land safely, and a giant sloth.

4. A fantasy world map. You can always tell story quality when there's a map of the world in question. A map shows the writer loves details. A map says the writer made up lots of cool names for things. The story does not have to go to some places on the map for me to dig it.

It lights up the dork meter to know there's a "Dark Forest" or "Dragon Sea" somewhere the heroes might go. That is why you put it at the beginning, when the reader doesn't know anyone or anything about the story yet.

Parageaa is a step ahead of most modern fantasies. It's not a blatant setup for a 17-part trilogy. Roberson isn't so in love with Paragaea that he spends pages of real estate describing the flora or the history. It's a backdrop for his characters to move through, and that's plenty.

Best of all, it's fun. It plays in the backyard of Philip Jose Farmer, Edgar Rice Burroughs, and Michael Moorcock.

The first three chapters are for free online. You will like it. Come on: it has a jaguar man.

RevolutionSF editor Joe Crowe believes in the importance of zeppelin maintenance.

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