The Wards: the maximum security prisons where Earth permanently disposes of its most troublesome citizens. Jude Rowe has survived six years in the Wards, and now Earth Intelligence is offering her a way out. The price: a one way trip to Arkoi, an Eden-like planet with childlike, primitive natives and a thriving human colony. But there is something terribly wrong with this picture of paradise. Every expedition sent beyond the colony's borders has disappeared. The few survivors who eventually struggle back are totally, permanently insane. Are Arkoi's natives not as docile as they seem? Or are there some "others" out there ready to destroy any humans who stumble into their territory? Can Jude alone succeed where whole expeditions have failed? Or will she too vanish without a trace while the two worlds whirl closer and closer to final cataclysmic confrontation?
A Rumor of Angels is a 30 year old story. Coincidentally, the story begins 30 years after the discovery of an oddity in the fabric of space that creates a connection between Earth and another faraway planet. The planet is inhabited by primitive humanoid aliens, but no other animal life (which has been noticed as unusual). After 30 years, humans have not been able to venture any further due to explorers going mad. Our hero is a female photographer serving times for crimes against the state who is given a chance for a pardon in exchange for risking madness.
The sci-fi elements are minimal beyond the matter of fact nature of the wormhole which is never explained. The aliens are ultimately revealed to possess some degree of psychic powers, but this is largely utilized in the context of "New Age" mysticism that probably resonated better 30 years ago as a Twilight Zone-esque commentary on US imperialism in the post-Vietnam era. One can presume that the aliens were envisioned as the author's version of perfectly self-actualized humans.
The major detraction to the story is the illogical choices that everyone makes. For example, after 30 years, the only method for exploration is to send boots on the ground out walking. No one would have thought to fly probes aloft? Why not put a satellite in orbit around the planet (after 30 years, the infrastructure should have been available)? Exploration is only undertaken in the horror film genre mode ("gee, this looks dangerous, we should split up and individually search"). With explorers returning insane, a photographer is selected because their returning pictures seem strange also? The aliens which possess a moderately advanced technological society (at least 20th century) decide when the humans come through to hide and have a small contingent of alien "volunteer kamikazes" pretend to be primitives; why?
The narration, while passable, makes this a hard listen. The pace is not so much fast as there is a hurried quality that creates false tension about everything. In addition, much of the dialogue (for which the author is partly responsible) has the quality of people taking past each other that is frustrating, confusing, and unhelpful.
Update: Concerns regarding this audiobook's narration have been corrected and updated since this review was originally posted.
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