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Outrunning the Storm
Type: Science FictionAuthor: Michele_Dutcher
The most striking feature of author Michele Dutcher's novel Outrunning the Storm is its poetic complexity. The poetry comes from the epic struggle at the heart of this novel between despair on the one hand and redemption on the other. Over the thousands of years that this novel spans we revisit again and again the same inconsolable grief being played out through the characters' lives: sometimes it is grief at the loss of a loved one; sometimes it is grief for the human condition and the seemingly stubborn insistence of that gifted species to repeatedly fail to live up to its potential; sometimes it is grief for that strange child we used to be and that as adults we no longer seem to recognise. All this is played out through iterations of the same characters who reappear in different forms as virtual beings ('infomorphs'), as clones of their 'baseline' original selves, as genetically engineered 'tweaks', as beings whose lives have been artificially extended across centuries through fantastical developments in biotechnologies. But always it is the same dynamic recurring in different times and places the vicious street gang led by 'King Chrissy' in Chapter 2 reappears, much transformed, thousands of years later, still on a throne, deciding over the fate of poor unfortunates much as she had on Earth centuries earlier. At all times there is, however, also a sense that these characters may one day finally break these recurring cycles of despair and suffering. This element of salvation becomes clearer as the novel progresses into ever more distant realms of time and space. It is as if each step further away from Earth is another step toward something very like Paradise. This point is underscored in the closing chapters of the novel when, for example, a later version of one of the main protagonists finds himself being led into the subterranean caverns of Ross 128-2: "Before them lay a chamber perhaps 300 yards in diameter, filled with what might be called Gargoyles. The largest expanse was inhabited by seven-foot tall creatures sitting on logs, ingesting small rats and rabbits harvested from the overworld [] there seemed to be an amazing feathered tweak sitting on a stone outcropping. Her hair was an azure colour, her skin almost alabaster. She was dressed in a light blue flowing gown that shimmered as she breathed and moved. " (pp. 173-174) Visions of Hell conceived on a long-forgotten Earth have, in the depths of space and time, become a living, breathing reality as the evolved descendants of genetically engineered adaptations (the so-called 'tweaks') come to bear an uncanny resemblance to devils and angels. But Heaven is also to be found out there in the darkest recesses of the cosmos such as some of the characters eventually find on the fourth planet of the star Wolf 359: "The shuttle had landed on bluegrass, in a meadow filled with thousands of lavender violets and white-blossomed pear trees [] As they hit the rise of a hilltop, they could see into a valley in which perhaps a hundred boys in overalls tended to the unexpected flora." (pp. 145-146) The trajectory to these fabulous places originates back on an Earth deluged with flood waters from melted ice-caps and passes through a history of the settlement and colonization of Mars that Dutcher has imagined in great detail. All of this contributes to the novel's other signal feature its complexity. Outrunning the Storm is complex not only in terms of plot but also in terms of presentation. In much the same way that wonderful collection of Arabic stories "The Thousand Nights and One Night" (Alf Layla wa-Layla) mixes romance with comedy, high adventure with morality, Dutcher's novel is also a complex of multiple story-telling genres and text types. Technical scientific exposition and formulae as well as historical timelines of futures yet to be are embedded into a fiction which ranges from horror to satire, from fables to bar humour, and from personal tragedy to the gentle comedy found in all human relationships. If I have one criticism of this novel, it is that the (electronic) manuscript in the Kindle version would benefit from a second look to clean up some remaining errors in formatting and copy though I stress these are very minor issues only and certainly do not detract from the enjoyment of the story it would nevertheless be nice to see these kinks ironed out at some stage. In short, I have been enjoying Dutcher's short fiction published on the peer-review fiction website, Quantum Muse, for many years now, but this is the first novel of hers that I have read and it comes highly recommended.
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Outrunning the Storm

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