Growing Light



Marta Randall

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Joseph Minion,
Reading this book is like plugging directly into your soul. You can't help but be hooked by the premise of a single human mortal (the novel's narrator, Tia) in a future world in which death has been conquered by science. The central guiding conceit is a beautifully simple, perfectly analogous metaphor for the universal experience of alienation -- of alienation to a horrifying degree: how can everyone else in the world not seem to be preoccupied with relatively petty concerns when you are the only one that will one day die? I have never felt such rock-bottom, hardcore aspects of human experience like death, sex, man's existential aloneness, transcendence (from...? to...?), art, passion for life, ostracism, even the futility of belief in God for those who are cursed with a steely intellect, forefronted and wrestled with so exhaustively, passionately AND entertainingly(!) in one novel. The writing seems to be the product not only of a tireless wordsmith, but feels so specific in its many beautifully woven technical descriptions that you'd be surprised if the author did not have a degree in engineering, besides an impressive working knowledge of architecture, botany, physiology and marine biology (besides a Tom Wolfeian talent for evoking hallucinatory drug experiences to boot).

But first and foremost, this is a work of literature. It is, unapologetically, science fiction, and it is also front rank literary art, doing the work that literature does, going right for matters of the human soul, wondering, questioning -- in as galvanizing a way that this reader can conjecture by virtue of the fact that all the novel's readers will share with Tia the one thing that makes her a "freak" -- what we are all doing here, the ultimate question of any art form.

Randall creates a world that is vivid and consistent, just strange enough to remind you, on every page, that we are in a future world, but always human enough to keep the reader from drifting off into some fantasy that is not terribly, terribly urgent from word one.

Interestingly, there are people all over the country now, so confused and distracted by the chaos of our culture, who are going on "retreats" that contain as their central theme "A Year to Live", the point being to force the retreatant to take stock of what's truly  important in their life and (I imagine) begin to prioritize. A couple of pages into Marta Randall's "Islands" and, seeing the world through her narrator's eyes, you're right there, face to face with The Thing That Makes You...Prioritize! 

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Library Journal
Many works of sf deal with approaches to new worlds. In some, the approach is confrontation or conquest; in others a political or sociological world-building takes place; in Journey we see not only the building of a society but the creation of a community, a haven, a home. This unusual tale is enriched by its science fictional trappings - a gentle alien race wins the friendship of suspicious humans; an exploding supernova signals the ending of one world and true commitment to a new one; a child grows to manhood and fulfills his dream of becoming a space adventurer; women not only bear children but fill important societal roles - but these well-drawn elements do not distract from what is essentially a family saga, a story not only of building a home but of homecoming. Highly recommended.

Charles N. Brown, Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine 
Marta Randall has taken the popular, family-saga-type novel and turned it into a major piece of science fiction. Journey is the story of both a family, the Kennerins, and a frontier world, Aerie. It covers about 20 years in their lives. The characterizations are marvelous. Randall has created real, sympathetic people and told their story, their triumphs and failures - both physical and emotional - with skill and understanding. Even the minor characters come alive. The book is extremely long but never dull. I made the mistake of starring it late one night and found myself unable to stop in the middle... This is the best original novel I’ve read so far this year. Highly recommended.

Spider Robinson, Destinies 1 
Another newcomer worth your investment is Marta Randall. Journey is her second novel, and a damned impressive one it is. It is a science fiction family saga, a kind of space/soap opera - but so, come to think of it, was Dune or Foundation or The Rolling Stones. Randall creates a whole family as her protagonist, over a span of four generations, and nearly all the family members get a turn at being the viewpoint character. Each and every one of the characters is rounded, engaging, and warmly real, whether seen in the first or third person, and the intricate windings of their karma provided a story that held my interest throughout. I cared about those people, one and all, and still do. 

Randall’s prose is more than readable, more than competent. It is polished, measured, rich in color and emotion yet never overindulgent, economically evocative. Somehow or other, she has created a 324-page book without an ounce of fat on it anywhere, an enormous and sprawling - yet perfectly controlled - saga. John Jakes isn’t in her league... 

Journey is startlingly good, and I look forward to more books from Marta Randall.

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Written as Martha Conley

A limited number of autographed hardcovers are available from the author for US$25.00, plus $3.00 shipping & handling. Email Marta for details.

Growing Light

West Coast Review of Books 
Growing Light's originality and overtones of sheer fun will keep you in stitches page after page. It's a must read for those who don't take life - or murder - too seriously.
Publishers Weekly
A spirited debut [that] mines California's New Age culture for comedy, romance, and puzzling murder.

Kirkus Reviews
Bright and funny - a welcome debut.

Fred Burke, Burke's Bookshelf
I defy anyone to find more entertainment for his or her dollar than in Growing Light, the debut mystery from Martha Conley. Conley's take on Northern California is dead-on, and her setting – a New Age computer company – enables her to skewer two sacred cows with one banderilla. Growing Light proves that cynical laughter and murder are an intoxicating combination.

Anne Munro is Conley's sweetly courageous heroine, entering the job force as a technical writer at Growing Light, whose gardening software integrates weather patterns, sunlight, temperature range, and the gardener's astrological information info to "attune" garden and gardener in perfect bio-synch. The brainchild of George Ashby, Growing Light reflects the Haight-Ashbury side of his personal, a daft cover for the heartless cruelty with which he runs his personal life.

That life doesn't last long, and just about everyone could be the killer. But who?

As simply pleasing as the plot synopsis sounds, the actual ins and outs of the crazy workforce at Growing Light provide a pell-mell river of fun twists – and the ending is rewardingly unexpected.

Which brings us to the best part of mystery novels: in this genre, when a captivating writer gives us a fun heroine and a rich setting, we are almost always blessed with a sequel. I'll be waiting.

Richard A. Lupoff
Martha Conley writes with a deceptive sweetness and gentility. In fact, her barbed arrows at the Northern California culture of high technology, New Age hooey-woowie, and covertly cold-blooded materialism strike to the very center of the bull's eye. Anne Munro's dogged courage unravels a murder mystery of almost Ross Macdonald-like complexity and leads to a wholly satisfying and valid solution.

In Growing Light, Martha Conley and Anne Munro make a most happy debut. I hope to see them back in many more adventures.

Charles de Lint
It's not just that Conley has created such a warm and believable chracter in her protagonist, Anne Munro, although Lord knows that's a gift that shouldn't be overlooked. What makes Growing Light such a delicious read is how Conley juxtaposes Munro's normality so effectively against hte loopy cast of feel-good, New Age-conscious Californias with whom she has come under suspicion for the murder of her new boss. Scenes like the one with the Berkeley programmer and hilarious, but Conley balances the humor with a true understanding of the serious side of human nature as well. A wonderful debut.

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Dangerous Games

Stephen King
DANGEROUS GAMES is wonderful. Although I liked just about everything about it, the thing I liked the best, I think, was the book's leisurely pace and the sheer expanse of the thing. In fact, that took me a little while to get used to, because a great deal of science fiction (I don't read much SF anymore; it's gotten too technical and too linguistically introspective – to the point where it seems that half the words on any given page are unfamiliar collections of consonants in italics) seems very jittery to me, very much in a hurry, very much POW! BAM! And on to the next panel. I like the book's muscularity and its interest in family affairs and family ties. I liked the fact that the women were strong but the men seemed to be presented fairly. I loved Chiba and his hot-air balloon, and the kasirene were great. I'd like to see a picture of them; I keep imagining intelligent kangaroos observed in 3-D without the glasses. I'm sure that must all be wrong.

Don D'Ammassa, S.F. Chronicle
Marta Randall is one of those writers who just goes right along getting better with each novel. Journey was so much better than her first couple of novels that it seemed like another writer entirely. Now, with a very long sequel to that novel, she has created one of the finer novels to appear in years.

Randall does a fine job with her characters, as usual, and the early chapters in particular present a fascinating interplay among the crew of a starship. She has also created a fascinating personality in Tatha, the cat woman, who is a pivotal element in the plot against the Kennerins.

Dangerous Games is a mixture of science fiction and historical novel that may put some readers off. Randall doesn't rush headlong int her plot, but carefully considers each step before she proceeds. But it is that very cautiousness which makes the novel so effective, an approach many another writer would do well to imitate.

Marta Randall's Dangerous Games is a more standard brand of SF. Its universe is one whose people range among the stars, where worlds are owned by corporations and families, where corporate takeovers can mean literal interstellar war. In this cosmos, we have Sandro Marquez, scion of a clan whose world has been lost to Parallax, a greedy giant of a company that tyrannizes its possessions. He blames the loss in part on the Kennerins, a directly competing family; yet he is soon allied with them, mate on a starship and peripheral witness to the events surrounding them. He is there when Jes Kennerin acquires the cat-woman Tatha and her babe from Gensco Station, an outfit that guarantees its employees' loyalty by such tactics as holding their children as hostages. He is there when the Kennerin's own genetic engineer, Hart, is punished for his early, clumsy experiments on the natives of the Kennerin world. And he is there to help when Parallax aims a takeover bid at Aerie.

Part of the book has appeared as an F&SF novelet. It stands out, too, for even though the book is organized episodically, it is pervaded by a sense of family ties that here fades a way, or at least takes a different, more personal focus. Yet it hardly spoils the book. The story as a whole is strong enough to withstand such a weakening, and it remains a book worth reading.