Sunday, November 09, 2008

Purusha's Urn


Reliquary for the Universe
by John Robert Johnson
(Global Book Publishers / 0-981-82220-7 / 978-0981-82220-4 / September 2008 / 372 pages / $17.95 / $16.15 Amazon)
Reviewed by Dianne Salerni for PODBRAM

The Fifth Element meets Contact in this science fiction novel describing a cataclysmic disaster of universal proportions. In 1970, an archeological expedition encounters an anomalous artifact: buried in an Iraqi ziggurat: a reliquary depicting a strange, bejeweled world resting upon the trunks and tusks of elephant-like mammals. The four-foot urn is engraved with a bizarre combination of ancient writing and refers to the ancient Hindu god Purusha, from whose body the Universe was created. It might have been the find of the century except that everything about it is wrong—the wrong location, the wrong shape, the wrong time period, the wrong religion.

Fearing a hoax, Aaron Koppernick, the head of the archeological team, smuggles the urn out of the country. His intention is to conceal it until its origins can be determined—but his curiosity gets the better of him and, predictably, he opens it …

Koppernick’s act of human curiosity sparks off a horrendous event which takes nearly 40 years to manifest—an event which will eventually involve his son Niklas, a Nobel-prize winning astronomer, Niklas’s estranged wife Anna, who works at a SETI observatory, a sinister government security agent, and a hair-raising warning from outer space. Everything the reader thinks he or she knows about the universe will be turned upside-down as the deadly consequences of a dead man’s actions reveal themselves.

Author John Robert Johnson writes with a simple style, geared toward the reader who prefers his prose unadorned and uncluttered, yet his book is populated with realistic characters who behave in ways that are familiar to us. Universe bubbles-within-bubbles, extra-terrestrial contact, and even a little bit of religious terror provide the trappings on a story that takes an obscure theory to its logical conclusion. The cover illustration is beautiful (and increasingly meaningful to the reader), and there is even a drawing of the urn provided.

There is little to complain about from a technical point of view. Editing errors involve mainly typos or paragraphs that lack indentation—nothing that would detract from the reader’s overall enjoyment. The climax, however, includes a bizarre chase scene that is, in its own way, just as anomalous as the finding of that urn in the ziggurat. New characters are introduced at the last minute, primarily to pump up the level of tension for the climactic scene, but they do little to complement the plot line and probably should not have been there at all. Readers enjoying the story line up to this point will forgive this small misstep and probably pretend (as I did) that it just did not happen.

Purusha’s Urn is a science fiction novel worthy of a close look for armchair astronomers and philosophers—a chilling glimpse at just how small and fragile our world (and universe) might be.

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