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Burn by James Patrick Kelly
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Burn (2005)

by James Patrick Kelly

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James Patrick Kelly has given us a tightly written novella centered on ecological warfare and the clash of cultures. I happen to read it the same week I was reading "Hippie Food" by Jonathan Kauffman and I found some resonance between them. I'm from Pennsylvania so William Penn is scooting around here somewhere too, and the Amish.

Spur's grandparents were back-to-the-landers, (lander as in hippies not as in spacecraft). Somewhere around 2400, Chairman Jack Winter bought a planet, named it Walden, and invited homesteaders to join him in his quest to preserve traditional humankind by which he mostly meant not bio-enhanced or telepathic. Chairman Winter and successive waves of settlers arrived on Walden, which already had the remnants of the original human settlers, nicknamed pukpuks, and went about setting up an agrarian society that turned its back on the ways of the outer worlds.

Chairman Winter has untold wealth (and an extraordinary long life, it seems) and has built railroads and continent-wide communications networks to support his colony. Yet, as in all communities everywhere, children and grandchildren are bitter about the choices their families made that compel them now to be farmers. The pukpuks too, are angry at the encroachment of the settlers on what they consider to be their land. Chairman Winter has declared that the world should be forest and, in one of those unethical things that dictators do, broke his own rules and planted enhanced trees to cover the planet and strangle the pukpuks. (This is only a novella so Mr. Kelly doesn't have time to point to these new trees as invasive species that will cause big trouble to farmers down the line.)

The pukpuks retaliate, supported by sympathizers from the communities, and start setting massive forest fires. The novella opens with Spur in the hospital recovering from burns he received as a firefighter. He's being treated by a medbot operated by a doctor on a far planet – another of Chairman Winter's compromises.

Part of it was my background but most of it is Mr. Kelly's tight controlled writing. I was quickly caught up in Spur's story and the way it unfolds. I think that you will enjoy it too and recommend you give it a try.

I received a review copy of "Burn" by James Patrick Kelly (Tachyon) through NetGalley.com. It was originally published by Tachyon in 2005, winning the Nebula award for Best Novella in 2006. It has been reissued by Tachyon in June 2018 with a new afterword by the author. ( )
  Dokfintong | Jun 9, 2018 |
It’s an interesting blend of inspirations, Walden and the Dalai Lama and Backdraft and suicide bombers. Comes together nicely. ( )
  Jon_Hansen | Jun 3, 2018 |
I really liked the characters and the action and the setting and the story. But putting it all together I wasn’t overwhelmed. My mom used to serve casseroles consisting of leftovers from previous days all mixed together. When we protested, she would exclaim "But you like everything I put in this earlier!" This is almost like that. I like all the pieces, but am very middle of the road about the combination.

Full review: http://reading.kingrat.biz/reviews/burn-james-patrick-kelly ( )
  KingRat | Feb 28, 2010 |
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We might try our lives by a thousand simple tests; as, for instance, that the same sun which ripens my beans illumines at once a system of earths like ours. If I had remembered this it would have prevented some mistakes. This was not the light in which I hoed them. The stars are the apexes of what wonder-ful triangles! What distant and different beings in the various mansions of the universe are contemplating the same one at the same moment! Nature and human life are as various as our several constitutions. Who shall say what prospect life offers to another? – Walden
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