April 2005

The Green and the Gray

A novel by Timothy Zahn
2004 Tor Books
ISBN: 0765307170
448 pages

Timothy Zahn opens The Green and the Gray with two warring alien races meeting for the sacrifice of a young girl. Before Melantha Green can meet her unfortunate demise, she is rescued by an unseen hero who carries her away, setting in motion the inevitable conflict between the Grays and the Greens. Meanwhile, Roger and Caroline Whittier are walking home after a play, seemingly disillusioned with their relationship, nearly inciting an argument with every breath.

Suddenly, Melantha is entrusted into their care, and they must put aside their personal problems as their world quickly unthreads and the very fate of New York City is placed in their hands. The Whittiers soon learn that the Greens and the Grays are refugees from an alien world, and even though each species has lived in New York for seventy years, they have only recently come to learn of each other’s presence. Time has done nothing to heal old wounds, and their ancient conflicts are about to rekindle in the ultimate battle with humanity caught in the middle.

Timothy Zahn’s latest SF romp fits the carefully structured storytelling his fans have come to expect, but a fast pace and a host of mysterious events keep the novel from feeling cliché. Zahn has been incorporating elements of mystery in his latest works (see his last Star Wars novel for proof), but he takes this story even farther into mystery by setting it on earth in modern times, allowing the readers to immediately identify with the setting and the human characters. While this allows Zahn to quickly advance his story, it also eliminates one of his greatest strengths: the building of alien worlds. Even though he develops the cultures of the Greens and the Grays, I missed the wonderfully alien settings he so masterfully creates.

If not for the 9/11 attacks, the Greens and the Grays still might not know of each other’s existence in New York. They meet in the aftermath of the falling towers. Zahn cleverly uses setting to create a metaphor between two people groups of opposing ideologies and their seemingly uncontrollable need to destroy one another. He made me laugh when revealing the cause for the hatred between them, for he demonstrates how pathetic our own prejudices can be, how blindly we cling to the misconceptions of history.

The conclusion of the novel gave me some fits. The novel becomes a melting pot of genre elements, mixing science fiction, mystery, even fantasy with a dash of mythology just for fun. Zahn combines so many elements that he never develops any one of them completely. The characters are believable enough, but they lacked the Zahn-like charm I’ve come to appreciate. If you are a fan of Zahn and you like a good mystery, The Green and the Gray will keep you turning the pages. Fans of Heir to the Empire or Conqueror’s Pride will still enjoy this work, and the novel is mostly worth the trip. I give Zahn credit for trying something new, for stretching his abilities as a writer. Normally, when a writer is determined to grow and experiment, quality work is the result, and this Zahn fan sees much to be hopeful for in the future.

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