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Days of Atonement by Walter Jon Williams

Days of Atonement (edition 1992)

by Walter Jon Williams

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291538,609 (3.36)7
Title:Days of Atonement
Authors:Walter Jon Williams
Info:Tor Books (1992), Mass Market Paperback, 448 pages
Collections:Your library
Tags:science fiction

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Days of Atonement by Walter Jon Williams



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early work by an sf writer i really like. bit too early, maybe - he doesn't quite pull it off, though in its own way it's plenty ambitious, juggling alternate history, quantum theory, the western genre, psychological thrillers, and a biblical theme to make its mean. the result is interesting, but the writer's not always in control of his material. and the book acquires in the reading a kind of crazed quality that's supposed to belong to the protagonist but makes me worry about the writer's state of mind at the time. still, as storytelling it's a compelling read. and he almost makes every bit of it work. as his later books pretty much always do. ( )
  macha | Apr 13, 2014 |
This is an interestingly ambitious novel, in that it's trying to be a lot of different things at once: a hard SF story; a police procedural with a mystery so strange it appears supernatural; an intimate look at life in a seedy, slowly dying New Mexico mining town; a thoughtful meditation on science and religion and the kinds of miracles that each can produce; and a portrait of a man who, depending on how you look at it, is either a corrupt bully or a righteous protector of his town and his people, or maybe both. These are all good things, and individually, the novel deals pretty well with all of them (even if the scientific premise isn't all that plausible), but somehow, for me at least, it never quite gels together fully, with the wilder SF aspects feeling a little out of place in the story about life as a small-town cop, and the slow-paced story about the small-town cop sometimes feeling like it bogs down what could otherwise have been a nicely suspenseful SF mystery. I get what Williams is doing in attempt to integrate all these disparate elements together, and in theory I appreciate it, but while the result is interesting, I think it misses the bullseye by a couple of inches. ( )
1 vote bragan | May 8, 2013 |
An interesting mix of the old west and science fiction, this book was just re-released in ebook form by the author (Walter Jon Williams).

You could strip out the science fiction bits and still have a good action/adventure yarn, and -- as he's done in so many of his books -- Williams has written characters that are interesting (largely because they're flawed).

A small southwestern town's Chief of Police battles his own temper, a dying town, and a series of baffling occurrences, all of which come together in an action-packed climax.

In one sense, it offers a preview of Williams' current "Dagmar" novels, which are even more compelling.

I'd suggest Williams remains an underappreciated science fiction writer, and Days of Atonement -- while not exactly hardcore science fiction -- doesn't change that thinking. ( )
  TCWriter | Mar 31, 2013 |
My reaction to reading this book in 1992. Spoilers follow.

I liked this book a lot. It's a police procedural story with a sf element.

The mystery element was pretty predictable stuff. You know immediately who the villain was, who the traitor was going to be, and that boxer Loren Hawn and martial artist William Patience were going to battle at story's end. Sure, some minor plot twists were unexpected, but the major ones I figured out.

What raises the novel to such a high level is the style, in particular the use of, in the last fourth of the book, imagery from particle and quantam physics and religious themes. This goes along with Williams strong status as a good second-generation writer. Whether its cyberpunk or a police procedure story, his literary style brings something new to the themes and plots and settings of others. The story uses two paradigms, two themes -- religion in the seven deadly sins and Days of Atonement and language of quantam physics to trace Hawn's progress from a slightly corrupt cop. (I liked the invented Church of the Apostles of Elohim and the Nazarene, a sect founded on the revelations of the Master in Gray who the Mormons say was the devil. Their so into Atonement they do it for a week instead of just a day.)

Hawn is guilty, perhap,s of pride (in thinking he is "the Arm and Sword of the Lord" in insuring his town is a "nice" place) and certainly of wrath (he illegally beats a suspect in custody). He regards himself as aware of the town's secrets, its defender, and member of a perfect family but becomes a very wrathful, out of control avenger not at all sure whether he is the Lord's agent to change things (he regards Randal Dudenhof's appearance, after being dead for 20 years, as a miracle for some purpose) or of his relations with his family (he finds out his daughter's abortion was concealed from him) or what motivates his brother. The last straw in the transformation from religious certainity to quantam uncertainity is the revelation that Hawn's minister killed some children in a fire he set in a Los Angeles mission.

The best part of the book is at the end of Chapter Nineteen -- in this chapter that Williams reverts to the thriller tactic of jumping ahead in time then alternating with backfilling the story. This is when Hawn begins to wonder what the "orbits" of his family are when he's not looking; sees drunken, schismatic preacher Roberts or brother Jerry as particles unable to fully materialize, dead men in the train "accident" as particles in an acclerometer, and the past denizens and religious as particles exerting an influence down the time axis.

When Hawn begins his rampage, he's a very wrathful man. The atonement for that wrath comes in two parts (and a strange, ambiguous final chapter): his death and materialization in another universe -- perhaps a far future or a pre-white past. It's never said, and I found that kind of irritating. Thematically, Hawn seems guilty of pride though certainly not as guilty as William Patience who, as it is explicitly said, started the whole train of events by being such a prideful, sort of bogus ex-Green Beret that he tried to cover-up a legally juustifiable homocide rather than admit a mistake. So it seems strange to give him a chance to influence events further in another time; however, Hawn sees exile as atonement. The book is amazingly detailed in depicting conversations and characters.

Everything has some relevance to the plot. I also liked the setting of Atocha with its outlying brothels, ufo landing field, eco-terrorists, ATL, and copper mine. Williams chooses to narrowly focus on the town but still gives us a picture of the outside world of eco-terrorists, troubles in Uganda, AIDS draining government coffers, and (getting blindsided by fast-moving reality like so many writers) a bloody Armenian attempt to secede from the Soviet Union. ( )
  RandyStafford | Dec 11, 2012 |
  mcolpitts | Aug 15, 2009 |
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Loren Hawn is a traditional Western peace officer walking the streets of 21st Century New Mexico, and seemingly unaware that times have changed. And when a dying man named Randal falls out of a bullet-riddled car and dies in Loren's arm, Loren finds he isn't the only man living in the wrong time--- because he remembers pulling Randal's dead body out of a wrecked car twenty years before. He knows the car belongs to a scientist who works at the high-security laboratory built on the outskirts of town, and he knows that if he doesn't work fast, all evidence of a crime will disappear into national security vaults. In order to bring justice back to his community, Loren will have to risk everything, his life, his job, his faith, and his family. The Chicago Sun-Times said, "This is a novel that works marvelously on a variety of levels--- as an adventure story, a trek through personal entanglements, a study in detailed police techniques and an elightening lesson in theoretical science. And if that isn't enough, it also offers a totally unexpected ending.… (more)

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