Survive! Marooned on Planet Tau Ceti g
by Charles P. Graham

"Life cannot exist without death. Chris saved that poor creature a long, slow death by starvation. Its death is not meaningless."

In the spirit of the science fiction classic Star Trek, Charles P. Graham’s futuristic debut novel allows readers a birds-eye view into the challenges and nuances, both positive and dangerous, of a new planet, Tau Ceti g, discovered using unprecedented Faster than Light (FTL) technology.

The narrative commences in the 23th century amid numerous technological innovations; however, even then, mishaps cannot be 100% avoided. Such is the case for the hundred and ten member Copernicus crew that finds itself in the middle of a devastating meteor storm. In fact, only five escape pods are released for a whopping total of seven survivors: xenobiologist Chris Elliot, engineer Ron Layman, Dr. Holly Rhodes, supply officer Sandy Brooks, communications specialist Jay Johnson, xenobotanist Miranda Stevens and the executive officer of the Copernicus, Caitlyn Clayton Carver. Together, the group brings a slew of unique skills that can help prolong their survival on a planet that, while similar to Earth in size temperature, and climate, is filled with one unexpected adventure after another.

Graham’s writing style does not suffer from the pitfalls of a typical debut novelist. From the prologue, which depicts the crash, Graham does an exceptional job of thrusting readers immediately into a crisis situation on an unexplored planet. Moreover, the author weaves character descriptions and plot elements with vivid, almost surgical precision that will allow readers to imagine exactly what Graham would like them to see. While there are many positives, audiences may find the opening scenes, with the repeated introduction of each main character's weight, height and type of build slightly cumbersome. Nevertheless, as readers dig deeper into the story, the character and world development of Tau Ceti g and its inhabitants thoroughly immerses readers.

Whether the author is describing Jay Johnson installing the transmitter at a higher elevation, demonstrating how to convert morning dew into water, or describing the group building tree huts from animal skin and other planet-side resources, there is never a point where readers are bombarded with scientific terms or heavy vocabulary. On the contrary, parts of these building scenes read like flawless instruction manuals: crisp and precise to the point that a layman on Tau Ceti g might execute these directions without a slip-up.

Before the Copernicus survivors unite, the escape pods land in different areas of Tau Ceti g. Graham cleverly situates these three pods in planetary areas that reflect three different elements. For instance, Miranda and Caitlyn are perched near a body of water. Through their point-of-view, readers get to experience and understand the types of life on the planet. Through Jay Johnson’s character, readers come face to face with a creatures that resemble a cross between a dog and pig. He comes up with the brilliant moniker, “pidogg” for them.

Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of Survive! is the relationship between the pidoggs, led by Judy, and their human friends. In one adventure after another, the pidoggs not only demonstrate their intelligence, but also their loyalty to their human friends. In one particularly profound scene, the pidoggs show off their military strategizing ability as they, along with the humans, defend against giant bear-like animals. In their own sing-song form of communication, the pidoggs appear to communicate and engage in similar human customs like paying one’s final respects.

On a thematic level, Graham addresses critical issues like mental health and humane behavior toward animals. Through several brutal, albeit necessary scenes portraying the kill, Graham acknowledges that there is a food chain and at times, especially on Tau Ceti g, the philosophy is essentially eat or be eaten. This, however, does not relieve the hunter from inflicting as little suffering as possible on the prey. On the mental health front, conjure the idea of being light years away from home, with the chances of a rescue at slim to none. Sandy’s character has mostly one job throughout the novel: free-flowing stream of tears. At the same time, she is diagnosed as clinically depressed and perhaps shows more human characteristics of stress, pain, and fear in response to the adversity than her tougher, survival-minded counterparts. The isolation brings the group together in unimaginable ways. When every moment of existence is a privilege and needs to be earned, should anything different be expected?

Collaboration is on full display on Tau Ceti g. With the support of the pidoggs, the Copernicus survivors are able to utilize their individual skill-set to navigate the planet. Whether that is enough to survive on the planet long term makes hope and determination in adverse situations a focal point of Graham’s debut.

Overall, Survive! Marooned on Planet Tau Ceti g is both entertaining and enriching for all audiences. In more than one instance, the resourcefulness of the Copernicus crew not only saves their lives, but demonstrates that the same quick-thinking decisions can be emulated in one’s own life. When readers turn the final page of this page turner, their focus will immediately shift toward anticipating the sequel of Graham’s energetic debut.

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