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    MELCHIOR'S FIRE by Jack L. Chalker


    BAEN, June 2001

    The crew of the salvage ship Stanley is in trouble. A routine salvage mission turns into disaster when the crew runs into a powerful alien lifeforce and they are forced to flee with nothing. Their backs against the wall, the Stanley crew is ripe to listen to a proposal that they enlist on the exploration of the famous Three Kings--three human-inhabitable planets existing in a single system. The Three Kings are thought to hold many of the secrets of the universe, jewels that can create perfect illusions, and alien technology secrets that could revolutionize the failing human civilizations. Yet is the crew heading for wealth, or for the largest trap in the universe?

    Set eighty years after the story told in BALSHAZZAR'S SERPENT (see our review), MELCHIOR'S FIRE is an action-filled adventure. Author Jack L. Chalker has created an interesting and plausible universe. Human civilization had explored the stars using controlled wormholes, but created an interdependent civilization. When an unexplained event cut off the most advanced third of the planets (including Earth) from the rest, expansion became a struggle for survival; salvage became as important as creation; and a scientific windfall like that promised in The Three Kings could mean the difference between long-term human survival and extinction.

    Author Jack L. Chalker (see all reviews of novels by this author) expects his readers to be as interested in his universe as he is and often digresses into long conversations, or even author-intrusive notes. Normally this would be a bad thing. Because Chalker's universe really is interesting, I kept on reading, fascinated.

    MELCHIOR'S FIRE is a completely independent novel. The reader gains something by reading BALSHAZZAR'S SERPENT, but reading the earlier novel is not especially critical to enjoying the newer one.

    Four Stars

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