The Tartarus Incident by William Greenleaf
Publisher: Mundania Press
Genre: Action/Adventure, Sci-Fi/Fantasy
Length: Full Length (167 pgs)
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Aloe
"Somebody get us the hell out of…"
This is the last transmission received from Caitlin Palamara's audit team. What could never happen is now a terrifying fact. The five-person crew of the ISEA audit ship jack-a-dandy has vanished during a routine skip from sector ship Graywand to the planet Sierra.
Palamara and the others find themselves stranded on a hostile, undeveloped planet that bears no resemblance at all to Sierra. They've lost communication with Graywand, and their drive system is dead. Just when it seems that things can't get worse, John Wheeler, who feels a connection with a mysterious alien presence, wanders off and stumbles upon the sprawling ruins of an ancient city. The others have no choice but to go after him.
The place is more than a little spooky. But there's no real danger, right? The city is long dead, abandoned eons ago. Right?
For Caitlin Palamara's small audit team, it's the end of their comfortable routine, and the beginning of the interstellar nightmare that becomes known in ISEA archives as The Tartarus Incident.
It was just a routine mission until they landed on the wrong planet…
Mr. Greenleaf writes a good old-fashioned science fiction tale that has the flavor of those written in the 50’s by some of the world’s most talented sci-fi authors. He gives you a brief look at the world of the future and creates a crisis that is one of my worst fears: Finding yourself in an unexplored place with no idea of what’s out there and what it eats for lunch.
It all starts when Gordie had a hot date and was required to stay and repair a pod before he could go home. He didn’t want to miss out on his chance with her and the pod’s wiring was corroded. He decided to short cut it and put a jumper wire on the connection. That made it function. It was missing some safeties and wasn’t a long term fix but he’d take care of it the next time it came in. Sure…
As time goes on and a crew gets in the pod and heads out to audit books on another planet, they suddenly find themselves on an unknown planet with a pod that no longer functions. The worst part is that such an accident can’t happen. Pods only go where they are programmed and they were programmed for Sierra. Such an error can’t happen, but it has.
The author takes these two incidents and builds the entire story from them. The dispatcher at home is trying to trace the pod and its occupants and the crew is trying to repair the pod. Mr. Greenleaf expresses the uncertainty and fear of the crew very effectively. You empathize with the characters as they do their best to survive and you feel the frustration of the dispatcher who finds no one else senses the urgency he feels to solve this problem and save the crew. There can’t be a problem, you see.
I’ve had occasion to work with bureaucrats in the past, so it was easy for me to relate to Lars (the dispatcher) and his frustration. I’ve also felt like I was all alone in a new world a few times, so I was rooting for the crew in the pod. Mr. Greenleaf does a very nice job of drawing you into the story and making you care about his characters. His imaginary world seems realistic and dangerous. I’m going to look for more by this author. Why don’t you taste this story and see if it pleases you, too?