BOOK BEAT Naples Sun Times December 5-11, 2007
by Philip K. Jason
So, imagine yourself as a gorgeous, hardbodied chick – good-looking and toned because, like most of your kind, you’ve been genetically engineered a bit. You are a commander bucking for captain in a space warrior career in which there is still a bit of a glass ceiling for women. Your mission takes you to the low-class dirt planet, Earth, far from your own world of sophisticated technological advances and intergalactic transport. The subservient, robotic creatures that your scientists have devised, for “good reasons” of course, have undergone alterations and are now a threat – and Earth has become their breeding ground. Indeed, an Agent previously sent to report on these Zombies has instead been silenced by them.
You have been raised to think of Earthlings as inferior beings, and in many ways they are. Still, these “nils,” as they are patronizingly called, are not so very different from your people. Many of them speak a language that (conveniently) is almost identical to a language known to the humans in your world (or galaxy or system or whatever it is). They have a rudimentary technology, and their security organizations are not unlike the Guardian Force in which you serve. Their projectile weapons are unexpectedly effective when your advanced armaments are compromised. As you later discover, they have, by comparison, an abundance of delicious fresh water as well as bliss-inspiring foods like peanut butter and pizza.
Or pretend you are a homicide detective who works out of Bahia Vista – a mid-sized city on the Gulf Coast of Florida that could easily be mistaken for St. Petersburg. Ready for vacation, you are plunged into a strange case involving a mummified corpse and unusual computer-like gadgetry. Low and behold, this edgy, alluring alien babe named Jorie Mikkalah comes into your life, becoming a reluctant and mysterious partner in the mummy case, which suddenly turns into a crisis of cosmic dimensions.
It is a romance? Is it sci-fi fantasy? Is it satire? RITA-award winner Linnea Sinclair’s “The Down Home Zombie Blues” is all three. Most of all, it is great fun.
In watching the conjoined missions of Sergeant Theo Petrakos and Commander Jorie Mikkalah unfold, readers will find themselves readily accepting the premises that Sinclair offers. The author works two sides of the street in order to make her “what if” believable within the covers of the book. On the one hand, she herself has done the imagining and pretending in such detail – has created such a rich texture of circumstance and sensory experience and human psychology – that it is easy to suspend disbelief and join the adventure.
Beyond the credibility factor is Sinclair’s engaging flight of whimsy. The Tampa-St. Pete Florida that is the novel’s main setting takes on new dimensions as she embroiders it with the alien perspective of Jorie and her shipmates. Sinclair has fun with her genre as well, paying homage to the “Star Trek” and “Star Wars” sagas through light-hearted allusions. It’s as if Theo Petrakos knows something about how Jorie’s spacecraft travels because he has grown up on Star Trek episodes. Jorie wonders how Theo, a nil, can grasp such advanced principles. And there is a Wookie-like being in a walk-on part.
Those of us who have watched enough “Star Trek” know how often viewers were teased with relationships or at least temptations between Captain Kirk and alien super-femmes. Sinclair has developed something like that, though Theo is not from the future. He is fully one of us. High-spirited sex spices Sinclair’s novel, which also probes serious relationship issues such as loyalty to the yearnings of the heart versus one’s responsibilities to duty and to the codes of one’s civilization. These two attractive figures wrestle with such conflicts in credible and meaningful ways.
But let me not turn “The Down Home Zombie Blues” into something heavy. Through her dynamic and well-conceived major characters, her rounded supporting cast, her engaging and far-ranging vision, her narrative skill, and her playful tone, Neapolitan Linnea Sinclair has provided a lively and provocative entertainment. And I haven’t even told you about the Tresh or the veterinarian, or that the title song is included.
Philip K. Jason, Ph.D., is Professor Emeritus of English from the United States Naval Academy. A poet, critic, and free-lance writer with twenty books to his credit, this “Dr. Phil” chairs the annual Naples Writers’ Conference presented by the Naples Press Club.