Book Title: Crossline
Author: Russ Colchamiro
Publication Date: March 11, 2013
Indie Athenaeum Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars
Marcus Powell is a brash test pilot working for Taurus Enterprises, a global company that has invented a prototype craft that has the potential to travel the galaxy in a fraction of the time it takes for standard aircraft to do so. Buddy Rheams Jr. is the CEO of Taurus, with big dreams and thoughts of changing the world for the better. But when Marcus finds a mysterious wormhole out in deep space, he crosses over to a parallel dimension where he finds out what his destiny truly is. As his destiny plays out, lives are on the line as war looms and Buddy engages in actions that could trap Marcus in the other dimension forever! What does Marcus find there and how will his actions impact both worlds?
I was drawn to the plot of parallel worlds, but I was truly surprised when I found out this novel was so much more than that. When Marcus lands on Aretha, the parallel Earth, he finds a world engaged in a civil war of ideas and technology. The Westies, where Marcus lands, are part of a group that has reconnected with the land, living a simpler lifestyle.
Opposite them is The Scrapers, living a life of technology, pleasure, and self-indulgence. However, the reasons behind this war have a strong impact on both of their societies and especially how they wage war on one another. This kind of cultural thinking and the long-range impact on each individual and their societies make this novel deeper and richer as a result.
The Westies, at first glance, appear to be like the 1960’s era of our Earth, filled with what appears to be hippies. My first thought was that in a parallel Earth adventure, Marcus finds this kind of culture? I actually groaned a little and was skeptical of this, especially with the leader of The Westies, Chill. Chill smokes weed to see visions and makes philosophical statements. This section temporarily slowed down the pace of the novel for me.
However, as the author fleshed out Chill and his friends, they grew on me. Each of them are distinct individuals with interesting personality quirks. And they fight and bicker like an extended family during at a Thanksgiving get-together. I came to care deeply about their plight and felt immersed in it, their dreams and their desire to live their lives free from war without their safety being constantly threatened.
But as a culture, when they talked about Marcus’ destiny in coming here, I saw how this society is what it is for very distinct reasons. Their ideas and motivations are extremely important to the novel, as there’s more to them than meets the eye. It was a true revelation of how intertwined they were with the story of Marcus and what he must accomplish while on Aretha. I always appreciate these kinds of storytelling twists, as they defy the stereotypical norms and evolve into something unexpected.
Baked into this culture is an exploration of two worlds and the key figures in them. You never lose sight of the plot, trying to save the Westies in one world while Marcus’ world wonders what happened to him. Each Earth has an important part to play in this rollicking voyage and the suspense inherent in this plot kept me turning pages to see what would happen next. The stakes are very high, are a bit unexpected and hold the fate of two worlds in the balance. The final third of the novel weaves together all of the different plot and the character threads into one fine tapestry, making it extremely hard to put down as the intensity rocketed sky-high, put the pedal to the metal and didn’t stop until it reached its breathtaking conclusion. It was one hell of a roller-coaster!
Marcus himself is a bit of a snarky protagonist but he also values family and has a lot of heart. This comes through the most when you see different sides of him. On one side, he’s a hotshot pilot. On the other side, he has a lot of worries about his family and his Earth once he crosses over to the alternate dimension. But as he learns more about The Westies and their predicament, he warms up to them, making friends and adjusting to the fact that he might just be the hero they’re looking for. How he matures over the course of the novel demonstrates a nuanced portrait of a Joe Everyman, someone I could relate to that really grounds him as a character. Even his family background sheds some light on his development and an increasing sense of responsibility.
His wife Chandra is no shrinking violet either. She’s just as smart, if not smarter, than her husband. She’s presented as a colorful, skilled and strong character. Her Indian heritage and how it plays a role in this novel is also a surprise, as her culture informs who she is as a person. Her role also expands greatly over the course of the novel and she is given much more to do. Sometimes in these types of situations, the wife is the stereotypical hand-wringing person who worries throughout the novel. Not Chandra! I really appreciated the fact that she is such a well-rounded person who embraces her background and is not afraid to use it as a teacher in a private school.
Their five-year-old daughter Jesse is also a surprise, as she has remarkable insights for such a young child. She also has a role to play in the novel and it’s not just as a daughter wondering where her father is.
Buddy Rheams Jr., the CEO philanthropist, his story is one I found to be quite significant in the story. His life is a novel within the novel and how he becomes the visionary entrepreneur he is and how his company progresses will astonish you. I found this to be one of the best parts of the novel, as his journey from his origins to where he is now is noteworthy, layered and filled with one particular vision. You can feel the weight of Buddy’s responsibilities in shepherding his company to new heights of success and the decisions he must make in order to guarantee that his vision of the future comes to fruition.
The author also establishes the mood really well. In the beginning, we can feel the excitement of the impending launch of Marcus aboard the Crossline spaceship, the world watching on their screens as the countdown begins. You can almost hear the swell of the heroic music and the roar of the rockets on the launchpad as it takes off, as it feels cinematic in scope. When on Aretha, you can feel the depression of The Westies predicament and the joy they find in living and celebrating life. You can feel the decadence of The Scrapers in their society and how it pushes its various characters to make drastic decisions. And you can feel the love the Powell family all have for one another and the faith in each other despite the circumstances that separate them.
I also enjoyed the extra connections between dimensions, which becomes more apparent the deeper we get into the novel. I won’t spoil this aspect of it, but there are some bombshell eye-openers about these connections and how they affect both Earths.
The use of humor with Marcus’ observations and commenting on his incredible dilemma is one of the aspects that breaks up the more intense moments of the novel. But the humor is also organically baked into the story through each character’s interactions with others, not just a punchline one after the other. A prime example of this is Dolores, one of the Westies who is quite motherly. But she’s also quite a revelation with her baking skills, her life experiences, her ability to be cunning and to fight in a combat situation! She made me laugh quite a bit with her blunt statements and the way she kept surprising me as a character.
All of the supporting characters also have several dimensions to them, not just one. In your average novel, sometimes they’re written thinly and poorly and you can tell they’re meant to stay in the background. But each one of these characters are people with some history to them that make them all stand out in a crowd and not just be wallpaper in the story.
This is a high-flying adventure of a novel, filled with ambitious ideas, unusual connections between parallel worlds and mystical planes of existence. I read the author’s short story “Man of the Year” from the Altered States Of The Union anthology, which ties into this novel. Since I was excited at what I found, I wanted to read more about this world so I jumped into this to read a novel-length work of his. I’m very glad that I did, as I really enjoyed the bold ideas and fully dimensional characters. It’s a thrill ride with a big heart and I savored the experience of reading it.
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