The Furnace

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by Timothy S. Johnston


The Furnace starts off as a detective story in the vein of Asimov’s The Caves of Steel, but halfway through the book, it morphs into the evolutionary descendant of Campbell’s Who Goes There? and Finney’s The Body Snatchers.  It is well-written and engaging with believable characters and a logical, if surprising plot-line.

Lieutenant Kyle Tanner is a detective for the military’s Security Division.  In a world where the military controls everything, he is part soldier and part policeman.  When a crewman on an experimental power-gathering station orbiting extremely close to the sun dies in what looks like an accident, Tanner is sent to investigate after someone cuts off the dead crewman’s head and hands.

Tanner is one of the division’s most skilled homicide detectives, so with only a dozen people on the station, he is confident that he can wrap up the investigation and arrest the murderer if murder it was.  But things are not so clear-cut, and too much makes no sense at all.  There is more to the crewman’s death than what was initially evident.

The storyline takes off in some surprising directions, so I think, in fairness to future readers, I will leave the synopsis at that.  It will be more enjoyable to explore what happens as the author intended.

The author’s writing style is clear and to-the-point.  His ideas and concepts are conveyed well without confusion.  Reading the story takes no special effort of deciphering just what the author means.  It is easy to get caught up and keep pushing to find out what happens next.

One thing I appreciate about this work is the obvious effort the author made to get things “right.”  From mathematics, physics, medicine, biology, space technology—the author did not just throw words down on paper.  He obviously researched his book very well.  And when he went into detail about certain facts, he didn’t turn the book into a textbook as other authors are sometimes wont to do.  The story still flows.

That is not to say that he got every detail correct.  Energy weapons, for example, as we know them now, do not have recoil, so such a weapon could not be used as a means of propulsion.  And decompression would not result in the body damage as the author described, either (according to US and Russian space agency data and some horrid Nazi experiments.)  But for the amount of subjects which could be incorrectly described, the author hits on most of them. 

In fact, the entire book is remarkably free of errors.  I found one minor error on time span, but that was it.  I may have wondered how such a skilled investigator could forget for a moment things such as calling a doctor back on Mars, but that is not a factual error.

The book introduces us to a nice variety of characters with different views and outlooks.  As a retired Marine, I personally loved the discomfort Tanner felt by the lack of military discipline aboard the station, especially the candor between a crewman and the station commander.  That served to pull me deeper into the story.

The bottom line is that this is a well-crafted piece of work.  The story is unique and enjoyable, the writing is excellent, and the research and effort to make this future world come together was outstanding.  This is a really good book, and I heartily recommend it.



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