The Tenth Planet
by Dean Wesley Smith and Kristine Kathryn Rusch
Reviewed by Bob Sojka

In June 2009 I attended a workshop by Kristine Kathryn Rusch and Dean Wesley Smith called the Kris and Dean Show. It was outstanding. Kris and Dean have writing credits six arms long, both under their own names and using a garden salad of pseudonyms. Dean has written dozens of media tie-in novels across a wide spectrum, including Star Trek, Smallville, Xmen, Spiderman, Men in Black, Quantum Leap and others. He founded the Sci-Fi magazine Tomorrow Speculative Fiction before selling it to Algis Budrys. Plus, Dean edited ten volumes of Strange New Worlds, the ostensibly Star Trek-spawned anthology series that opened the doors to many writers across a spectrum of speculative fiction. Kris has also written a host of novels in fantasy and science fiction and appeared in several anthologies. Both Kris and Dean write extensively in non-SF genres and in mainstream formats as well, under their pseudonyms. I avidly read Kris and Dean’s magazine Pulphouse back in the day, and grieved when they decided to shut it down to have more time for their own writing (How Selfish!). It was one of the best speculative fiction magazines ever, and won a World Fantasy Award in 1989. I read a couple of Kristine’s Retrieval Artist series a few years ago, but I decided I needed to read some of their work again before getting to the workshop so I would have a taste of their style again before arriving. I stumbled across The Tenth Planet in a bookstore. It is co-authored by Kris and Dean, drawing from a story by Rand Marlis and Christopher Weaver.

Since Kris and Dean are a highly collaborative author couple, both in their writing and in all the various writing-linked activities they undertake, I figured The Tenth Planet would be an efficient, or at least expedient, choice. I could also to see whether writing collaborations (four-way collaboration in this case) really work. Being a retired soil scientist, I was absolutely hooked when I skimmed a few pages and found a soil science tie-in to the story premise. We pedologist/edaphologist types lay awake nights wondering why more world literature hasn’t emerged from the fertile horizons of the earth’s solum that sustains terrestrial life as we know it. OK, I apologize. But when will I get another chance to plug my old profession to all you literati?

The Tenth Planet opens with the story protagonist, archeologist Edwin Bradshaw, leading a small dig by his college class at one of his favorite Oregon coast sites. He is also having a bit of a pity party contemplating his second tier professional status resulting from his audacious claim early in his career that a dark layer of hematite-like sandy material, found at a number of western hemisphere sites, looked disturbingly similar to nano-machines. The mainstream of his profession belittled his claim as silly and insufficiently documented. The smack down damaged Bradshaw’s confidence as much as his reputation, to the point that he quit defending his hypothesis against attacks from the mainstream. 
Unbeknownst to Bradshaw, Leo Cross, an Archeological Carl Sagan of sorts, has been collecting data for more than a decade that is disturbingly similar to Bradshaw’s. It was a curiosity that he was slow to delve into for the obvious risk that Bradshaw’s experience exemplified. All that changed when a deep space probe abruptly quit transmitting at the edge of the solar system. Abruptly, we learn, is a nuanced word, since signal analysis of the microseconds before the probe’s shutdown reveals evidence that sets Cross on a path that resurrects and redeems Bradshaw’s career, engenders a relationship between Cross and Britt Archer, head of NASA, and makes the trio the leaders of an unwished for, but darling sub-bureaucracy of the White House.

The Tenth Planet reads a little like a mystery novel, with the unlikely team of sleuths faced not merely with figuring out if a “crime” has been committed, but how often, why, to what consequence in the past, and with what consequence for the future. If this weren’t enough, their findings begin taking on increasingly higher stakes. Life and death decisions pile on top of one another as sci-fi archeological novel turns galactic thriller. I wish I could have helped with a few of the soil science fine points that had me grimacing a time or two, although never enough to throw me out of the story.

Through deft plotting and a gradual (scientifically believable) story reveal, the authors build tension to a grim but tenuously hopeful climax. Many lives are saved and many lives are lost, and one of the cleverest technical hooks for a sequel I’ve read in a long time is exposed in the final paragraphs. The Tenth Planet is the first book of a trilogy (followed by The Tenth Planet: Oblivion and The Tenth Planet: Final Assault). I’ll have the final two books with me in October when I spend two more weeks with Kris and Dean in their Master Workshop. The things I’ll do to get a couple of books personally autographed!

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