Gregory J. Austin,
with Rick Sellers,
Fallen City
(Zumaya, 2002)

Most of mankind died in an ecological disaster nearly 700 years ago. There are two groups of humans still living, each unaware of the other's existence. One consists of descendants of aborigines, living in harmony with the Earth all this time. Nearby, there is an underground city called Sanctum in which "civilized" man has continued, albeit in a socially stratified manner.

Fallen City, by Gregory J. Austin with Rick Sellers, begins as a story of two men living in in this post-apocalyptic world: Jarret St. John, a mazeplayer in Sanctum believing the surface can sustain life again, and Nakella, a surface-dweller seeking to leave his tribe and explore the green landscape. Both of these men are young idealists seeking a world beyond their established boundaries. Seemingly, this would be enough of a set-up to have a rich, full story. This scenario comprises maybe the first 80 pages.

At only 192 pages, this very fast-paced novel is a condensed collection of many different stories (St. John getting to the surface; Nakella exploring the world; the unusual gladiatorial Sanctum sport of mazeplay; the stratified society of Sanctum; life on the surface; freeing Sanctum). Austin and Sellers could have easily stretched out any of these stories into a 300-page novel. Thankfully, they didn't. There is so much going on in this novel that it is a chore keep up with. Don't worry, though, Austin and Sellers have a way of recapping events that keeps the book fresh while filling in missing or overlooked pieces.

All characters, even the villains, have depth and don't follow obvious paths throughout the story. Each character is given individual treatment and plays a significant role in the plot. The action is well-written and thoroughly choreographed and is appropriately (and sparingly) used. This makes the action scenes all the more intense.

Good characters, good plot, good action, good writing -- this book seemingly has it all. The only downside is that it introduces these interesting concepts yet doesn't explore ALL of them! For example, Nakella and his people are intensely interesting, yet once the Sanctum escapees meet the surface dwellers, Nakella and his people become supporting players. Further exploration (say, 120 pages or so) of Nakella's people would have been a welcome addition.

If you are tired of novels that lack action and have overblown dialogue, Fallen City is a sure-fire hit. All the fluff is stripped away, leaving a solid story. It doesn't rely on melodrama to carry the situation, just great characterization. Hopefully this isn't the last story of Jarrett St. John and Nakella -- there's a whole new world waiting to be explored.

- Rambles
written by C. Nathan Coyle
published 26 April 2003