When I received a review copy of Catch the Lightning, physicist Catherine Asaro's second take on the Skolian Empire, I was already predisposed to enjoy it. I knew I'd have to be very careful not to allow my feeling for the earlier book to have undue influence over my reaction to this one (I went on record raving about her first novel, Primary Inversion).
Therefore I'm glad to say that I'm honestly able to praise Catch the Lightning, with only a few faint damns here and there. I've already read it twice, in fact.
I will admit that Asaro's particular brand of exuberant neo-Campbellian super-science fiction didn't seem quite as fresh as it did when I found Primary Inversion. But the novel suffers only slightly from the symptoms of sophomore slump, and that mainly in comparison with its action-packed predecessor. Her prose still carries a healthy dose of the headlong sense of wonder for which I started reading sf lo these many years ago, and she doesn't let her background as a physicist get in the way of a good story. If you read and enjoyed Campbell's own series of Arcot, Wade and Morey stories, for instance, then you surely ought to give Asaro's books a try.
Asaro's milieu is not a mere nostalgic reconstruction of pulp from the 1930s, however; she is able to bring in elements of more modern sf (sex, for one!) without breaking the charm she begins weaving from the first scene of Catch the Lightning, which is set in a delicately askew alternative Los Angeles. The details Asaro chose to establish her parallel L.A. were both charming and plausible to this former resident of Los Angeles. I was reminded of the graceful Art Deco city that still shows through in spots beneath, or above, or behind the glass and granite even today.
Also, Asaro may have achieved the distinction of having created, in Tina (Akushtina) Pulivok, the first female Mayan protagonist in sf - at least, I can't think of another, and I flatter myself that I've read a lot in the field.
If I have one overriding concern about Asaro's work, it's that I hope she doesn't get bogged down in an endless series, churning out nothing but Skolian Empire books forever. I know I'm going against the market's preference on this one, but I prefer single novels, or at most shorter multibook works, to the sort of open-ended formula fiction that appears to be many writers' dream job. It's really too early to tell if Asaro will succumb to the temptation to make a franchise universe out of the Skolian Empire, but I suspect there's at least one more book set there to come - although Catch the Lightning does stand on its own, I definitely gathered the impression that it's a middle book in at least a trilogy.
Given how much I enjoyed Asaro's first two, though, I guess I could live with that.
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Catherine Asaro, Catch the Lightning. Tor paperback, ISBN 0-812-55102-8, US$5.99. More information about Catherine Asaro's books is available at http://www.sff.net/people/asaro/.
My reviews of Asaro's books:
©1998, 1999 Alan P. Scott. All rights reserved.
This document was last updated December 31, 1999.