Thursday, April 19, 2012

*Radiant Dawn, by Cody Goodfellow

Perilous Press, 2000
318 pp
(trade paper)

Radiant Dawn is really only the first part of a two-book series, followed by its companion, Ravenous Dusk.  The  story  mixes an apocalyptic, paranoid conspiracy thriller with military action, sci-fi and horror.    As far as its weird quotient -- you couldn't ask for better -- once again mankind is threatened by forces that may be beyond its control,  and the quest to wipe out the enemy to secure a human future on the planet may prove to be beyond mankind's capabilities.  But the "good guys" aren't giving up.  Starting "somewhere in the Tigris River Valley, Southern Iraq" in 1991 during Desert Storm, then quickly moving ahead in time to 1999 and California's Death Valley, Radiant Dawn tells the story of three people caught up in a bizarre fight where things are never what they seem. 

 Zane Ezekiel Storch was a Ranger in the army during Desert Storm, and after coming back home with a lot of damage he attributes to Gulf War Syndrome, he takes himself away to Death Valley.  He lives there in Thermopylae, a haven of self-styled hermits who just want to be left alone.  One July day he and a couple of his very odd friends are just hanging at the store when an RV pulls up, two tourists get out and the next thing he knows, there's a raid on the place by "black Kevlar-suited berserkers" wearing jackboots looking for a weapons cache.  Storch knows nothing, but a call from his friend during the raid alerts him to the fact that "the future of our race is at stake" and that the weapons were there because he had "to do something "  The second character is Stella Orozco, a Mexican-American ER nurse who blames everything on white people when things go wrong. She also has liver cancer with only another six months to live. She's on hand when a Life Flight chopper brings in a man who by all rights should be dead after losing a leg, a hand and having to wait some time for help to arrive, but who somehow manages to survive.  He's also riddled with cancer.  It isn't long until the patient is claimed by a Dr. Keogh of the Radiant Dawn Hospice Village.  Stella goes out to find this place, awed at how strong the patient is considering his condition, and meets with Keogh to ask if she can stay at the village because she doesn't want to die. She's turned down, but Keogh insists there will be more Radiant Dawn hospices for her in the future.  Finally, there's Special Agent Martin Cundieffe,  a nerdy FBI agent who looks like the old actor Wally Cox, has no friends except "other geeks on the Internet," and lives with his parents. He's an admirer of J. Edgar, a by-the-book, bookwormy agent who is called to an emergency meeting in the Federal Building of Los Angeles after a security breach at the Naval Weapons Station at China Lake.  It isn't long until he is moved up the ladder to take charge of a top secret operation that will ultimately become a life-changing event.

As it turns out, all three are forced to make choices  that land them smack in the middle between a strange group of scientists operating out of an underground complex and even stranger forces whose leader has his own plans for the human race, a "foe before which governments, commandments and creeds are nohting but sticks and stones in the paws of dumb animals," ... the Test which humankind must pass to prove its right to exist."   Who will win? Who is on who's side? Is the human race doomed?  Who are the good guys, and are the bad guys really bad? These are all questions that, sadly, won't be answered in this book -- as the action picks up, as the conspiracy theories run wild, as the characters can't decide who they should trust, the ending comes slamming down to a wild crescendo, only "to be continued" in the next book, Ravenous Dusk. Crap. So I guess I'm not quite finished with Cody Goodfellow just yet. 

Radiant Dawn is a fun read, one where the hackles go up on your neck while you're trying to decide where the conspiracies are, who you should trust, and what's going to happen next.  There are strange cults, people who don't exist but really do, and nods here and there to HP Lovecraft.  It's a very dynamic novel, never stalling in any one place, never getting dull for even a second. While it's very out there, which is a good thing in this kind of fiction, Goodfellow's plotting is solid and he keeps the reader on the edge throughout the book.  But it's not all tense -- there's one scene, for example,  where Cundieffe meets for lunch with the Assistant Director, which turns out to be egg-salad sandwiches and cookies from Cundieffe's mom, complete with a little note for her boy with lots of Xs and Os.   It's a very wild ride, filled with a lot of action,  but also highly satisfying for sci-fi and horror fans.  But aarrghh!!!! Having to wait for the conclusion is maddening!

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