Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Book Review: Critical Threshold

Book Review: 'Critical Threshold' by Brian M. Stableford
1 / 5 Stars

'Critical Threshold' (160 pp.) was published by DAW Books, as book No. UY1282, in February 1977. The cover illustration is by Douglas Beekman.

In the U.K., the novel was published by Hamlyn in 1979, with some amazing cover art by Tim White.
This is the second installment in the six-book 'Daedalus' series, which centers on the adventures of the eponymous starship and its crew, who are dispatched on various troubleshooting missions around the galaxy. It's not necessary to read the books in order, as they each are more or less standalone.

In 'Threshold' the Daedalus is sent to the forest world of Dendra, from which, for the past 150 years, no word has been received. What has happened to the descendents of the 1400 people who colonized the planet ?

When the Daedalus touches down on what appears to be the main settlement on Daedra, they make a troubling discovery: the handful of colonists are mentally unstable, wandering in a kind of catatonia. Their homes are dilapidated, their fields barely tended, their clothes and household goods crumbling and askew. Clearly, some disaster has overtaken the colonists.

The Daedalus's ecologist, Alex, decides to go on a mission to explore the immense forest surrounding the colony, in hopes of finding more colonists, and the reason for the disintegration of the colony. He is accompanied by the no-nonsense Karen, and an empath named Mariel. The team is lightly equipped, as the hostile fauna on Dendra are not particularly formidable. 

As the team wends their way through the strange and intimidating forest, their psychological and survival skills will come to be tested.......

'Threshold' is only 160 pages long but it seemed like a much longer read, mainly because the narrative consists of one long, interminable camping trip. Stableford uses the trip as a vehicle for lengthy internal monologues by Alex (the first-person narrator), as well as for didactic passages on topics such as ecology, sociology, and humanism. There is much digression on the subtle but growing impact of the sights and sounds of the alien landscape on the subliminal thought processes of our unprepared Terrans.

All of this exposition gives the novel a banal flavor, and indeed, the only real action sequence doesn't arrive until page 143, and it has a contrived note, as if Stableford had come to the belated realization that the novel badly lacked momentum and needed something to propel it over the finish line. 

While the Big Revelation for the distressed state of the colonists does get disclosed, and has some congruency with the book's theme of human arrogance as a bad thing, it also seems small reward for plowing through the narrative in the first place.

I finished 'Critical Threshold' content with giving it a One-Star Rating. For a novel written during the height of the New Wave movement it seems tame and unimaginative, a workmanlike effort, but not much more than that. 

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