The Fires of Shalsha – John Michael Greer

The Fires of Shalsha
John Michael Greer
Starseed Publications, 2009
242 pages

I’ve always enjoyed John Michael Greer’s nonfiction writing; I’ve read several of his books, and given them all good reviews. However, it just so happens that he’s a talented fiction writer, too. The Fires of Shalsa is Greer’s first published novel, and it’s one of the better sci-fi books I’ve read in a good long while. (Small press, too, which I always appreciate.)

Greer has created a world apart from Earth, where refugees from our planet several centuries post-exodus have settled into a series of small communities held in order by six laws prohibiting undue violence and powermongering. These laws are enforced by a neutral body of warrior mystics, the Halka, and are strictly punishable by death. Despite this, someone has enabled illegal war technology and killed hundreds of people. It’s up to the Halka and their colleagues to figure out what happened–but the only witness left alive has a severe case of amnesia. How will they prevent another attack with limited information?

The storyline alone is well worth the read. However, what I really appreciate about Greer’s writing is that it’s streamlined. Some authors take pages upon pages to simply describe the world they’ve built, the cultures within it, and so forth. Greer instead manages to work small details and implications about the culture in a quickly-moving story; we’re given the six laws before the story even starts, which goes a long way in setting a foundation for understanding his world here, and all else is fleshed out in the course of the storytelling.

For example, even before the story really gets underway, one can assume that some major war or other tragedy caused the six laws to be put into place; the details about the way the communities live help to support that over time. Additionally, it’s pretty obvious that nature is very important to the people, as the way characters observe and describe the world around them, activity within it, and their thoughts on it makes frequent references to natural phenomena, from flowers to the weather. Greer didn’t have to do some long explanation about how people loved nature, and why, and how they lived in harmony. It was simply apparent in their day-to-day interactions.

Greer imbues his characters with a certain amount of psychic ability. It’s more along the lines of telepathy than, say, pyrokinesis. It’s a nice touch that doesn’t make the characters too out there, but does make for a great plot device. It’s woven well into the rest of the story, but without negating the challenges the characters face, especially with their limited mechanical technology.

This is a quick read, and yet a very rich tale, too. The twist at the end is a nice touch, though I wasn’t too surprised by the resolution that occurred after. Still, I’d definitely recommend this to any sci-fi reader, any of Greer’s fans wanting something creatively different from him, and those who may have been disappointed by the overly idealistic utopian views of Starhawk’s The Fifth Sacred Thing but liked the general concept of a back-to-nature future.

Five pawprints out of five.

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