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    BALSHAZZAR'S SERPENT by Jack L. Chalker

    Baen Publishing, August 2000

    Mankind has conquered space, travelling through wormholes and establishing a mesh of trade-entwined worlds when disaster strikes. A third of the worlds, including the most advanced, are lost through an unexplained collapse in the wormhole transport system. Religious leaders, including Doctor Karl Woodward, try to keep civilization and the faith alive by travelling from star to star, discovering cut-off worlds, and spreading the good word.

    On a long-lost colony, Woodward discovers a people who appear ready to accept his word but who hold a terrible secret. Somehow he and his followers must overcome a terrible enemy--a man who can only be characterized as evil. Yet this leader has found a secret that has intrigued and mystified human civilization for generations. He knows the location of the impossible Three Kings star system. Woodward must not only escape, he must face challenges to his faith in what appears to be a return to Eden--serpent and all.

    BALSHAZZAR'S SERPENT creates a compelling universe with believable physics and characters. The rise of faith in a civilization nearly destroyed by the loss of so many worlds is certainly possible and author Jack. L. Chalker (see all reviews of novels by this author) avoids crossing the line into fantasy despite the faith element in the novel. Although this is a complete novel, it is written as the beginning of a series. The mysery of the Three Kings remains a challenge at the end of the novel, leaving the reader to anticipate forthcoming sequels. Perhaps because of its broad sweep and its need to introduce characters who will play vital roles throughout the series, BALSHAZZAR'S SERPENT does seem to hop from character to character and fully develop only a few. Even talented author Chalker is unable to avoid the temptation to introduce a female character named 'Eve,' who will play a vital role in the new Eden.

    Two Stars

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