JUNCTION by Daniel M Bensen, Flame Tree Press p/b £9.95, h/b £20, ebook £6.95
Reviewed by Nigel Robert Wilson
This novel is high quality science fiction as it used to be, ought to continue to be, and hopefully always will be. It is more than just the deployment of a generous imagination; it is a carefully planned, exquisitely structured and beautifully written story.
It is also a statement that measures the jealous, destructive stupidity of the prevailing human condition against the marvellous wonder of not just this universe but each and every one of the others.
Daisuke Matsumori, who fronts a popular nature show on Japanese television as the Iron Man of Survival is filming in Papua New Guinea when he is suddenly conscripted to be part of an international team being put together to investigate a wormhole just discovered in New Guinea on the Indonesian side of the border.
This wormhole is not a new discovery by humans as the local Nun people had long known about it and had been quietly terraforming the planet on the other side for generations. Their problem is that the rest of the world had now, for better or for worse, learned their secret and, inevitably wanted part of the action.
The amusing parallel with the so-called discovery of America by Columbus, given that the continents had always been there and inhabited by others is quite apparent. Furthermore, all the inherent stupidity of international rivalry presented as cooperation is described with neo-colonialist and racist attitudes docked alongside. Bensen has put up a mirror before the human race and what we see is a far from happy sight.
Daisuke enters the wormhole to meet an Australian biologist, Anne Houlihan who is the person who transmitted the word about the wormhole around the globe. She meticulously explains that the Nun discovered the wormhole, whilst she was just the one who told everyone about it. She is aggressively Australian, using the word `bonza’ to describe wonderful things. I suppose this is the same word as `bonzer’ as used by Barry Humphries back in the olden days before colour telly.
Daisuke also finds Indonesian and American military are part of the international team. These two parties ensure that nationalist objectives and rivalries become an issue in how the team dysfunctions. An allegedly Russian pilot is commissioned to fly a reconstructed airplane – it had been taken apart, passed through the wormhole and rebuilt – on a reconnaissance mission on the other side of the wormhole. It soon becomes very apparent that this planet has other wormholes that connect with other worlds. Hence the name Junction. One is reminded of the `Wood Between the Worlds’ as created by C S Lewis in Chapter 3 of `The Magicians Nephew’.
Of course the airplane crashes. Now on their own in a wholly alien environment with minimal food and water, the team has to contrive how to survive both the landscape and each other. They are far from base so do they wait to be rescued, or try to find their own way home? This leads to division and argument which in turn causes a destructive collision with the alien native fauna and flora. They manage to find water, but allergies become their main difficulty.
Bensen manages to describe the alien landscape through its interaction with the human characters who spend a lot of their time blundering around out of their depth. Houlihan the biologist acts as much as an interpreter for the landscape as she does as a character in the story. This makes for an intense and often disturbing read.
The denouement is best left for the reader to discover. It is almost an anti-climax, but it has both amusing and troublesome overtones. Humans play games with each other making life difficult and often plain awful. Despite all the angst the Nun people get the best laugh out of it, so the end feels warm and fuzzy.