Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Book Review: Sunburst

Book Review: 'Sunburst' by Phyllis Gotlieb

1 / 5 Stars

‘Sunburst’ (160 pp) first appeared as a serialized novel in ‘Amazing Stories’ in 1964, before being compiled into this paperback, published by Gold Medal books that same year. The cover artist is Richard Powers.

The story is set in 2024, some decades after a nuke plant meltdown spewed radiation into the Illinois city of Sorrel Park. The city is still recovering, with both military and civil authorities enforcing a harsh order on its run-down, garbage-strewn streets. The denizens of Sorrel Park are a population haunted by the consequences of the accident – namely, the birthing of mutant children with extraordinary powers.

As soon as a child displays extraordinary psychic and mental powers, he or she is forcibly taken from their parents and consigned to a high-security complex – known as the Dump - in the city center. An energy barrier, the so-called Marczinek Field, prevents the mutants from teleporting out of the Dump and wreaking havoc on the streets…….for as they mature in the confines of the Dump, these mutant kids transform not into the wholesome teens of the ‘X-Men’ comics, but physically and behaviorally warped individuals with a deep and abiding hatred for the world.

Shandy Johnson is a thirteen year-old orphan who has scratched out a semblance of a life on the streets of Sorrel Park. As the novel opens, Shandy is abducted off the city streets, and imprisoned by the military authorities in charge of the Dump. From her captors, Shandy learns that the inhabitants of the Dump – the so-called Dumplings – have honed their powers with the coming of adolescence, and the danger of a breakout has dramatically increased.

When events spin out of control, it will be up to Shandy, and a mutant named Jason Hemmer, to confront the enraged Dumplings……….and deter them from destroying not just Sorrel Park, but perhaps the entire country……if not the entire world………..

‘Sunburst’ was not a rewarding read. Despite its short length, it was a struggle to finish.

Most of the narrative consists of lengthy passages of dialogue between Shandy Johnson and the various military staffers in charge of security for the Dump and its inhabitants. Dialogue is not author Gotlieb’s strong suit; it is consistently stilted and wooden, with idioms and slang that seem contrived, and out of place, even by mid-60s standards.

Nothing of consequence really happens until the second half of the novel, and then it is so suffused with needless melodrama that the narrative barely maintains momentum en route to its rather predictable denouement.

The theme of mutant children endowed both with superpowers and anti-social attitudes is a well-worn trope in sf, and there is no shortage of short stories and novels that deal with the topic. That said, ‘Sunburst’ is one of the least impressive of these entries. Readers are better off sticking with Wyndham’s The Midwich Cuckoos.

1 comment:

ulysses said...

"Dumplings", just rolls off the tongue.

Interestingly enough, this novel lends its name to an annual award for the best Canadian science fiction or fantasy: