So, Have YOU Been to Gan?
by Kerry Blair
When my father wasn’t working or sleeping he was reading. If he was awake and not reading, he was sitting on the back deck in the dark with his daughter. From the time I was very young until my father passed away--quite fittingly at the dawn of a new millennium--we often gazed up at the stars together, discussing life, the universe, and everything.
But mostly the universe.
My father was born three years before Buck Rogers. He learned to read about the time of the big bang in a literary genre fathered by H.G. Wells, Jules Verne, and others. From the time I could read on, I watched him plow through the entire science fiction collections of both the Prescott and Mesa Public Libraries. Twice. (At least.) Although he had almost no use for personal possessions (like, say, an overcoat) he did manage to collect his weight in pulp novels -- all of which are still in my garage. I often swear to take them to Goodwill; sometimes I even get them as far as the trunk of my car before I turn around and haul them back. If I ever find the time and creativity, I would like to make a collage of the covers. Spaceships, aliens, strange new worlds . . . incredible art, mostly from the 30s through the 60s . . . I'd take it over an original Thomas Kinkade any day.
My father was the kindest, smartest, most interesting person in my world. Forget TV, and even books, I loved nothing more in the evenings before bed than fantasizing with him about the life we both knew simply must exist on other planets. For more than three decades, we’d point out stars and tell each other stories about what we imagined must go on out where no man has gone before. At first I was all about terrifying space monsters and magical moon princesses, but my dad insisted from the beginning that the people who live “out there” don’t differ much from the people who live here. When I joined the Church and shared with him Christ’s words about His other sheep from the Book of Mormon, my dad just nodded. He’d remembered that Plan all his life.
Most LDS people, in fact, know that Earth is not the only planet ever created. But how many of us actually talk about it? (Besides me, I mean.) The only thing more amazing than somebody publicly expounding upon the LDS view of outer space is somebody else writing a novel about it. Well, friends and neighbors, somebody has! Our own Daron D. Fraley, in fact. (I will forever be proud to have snagged him as a guest blogger before he becomes inter-galactically famous.) The book is The Thorn: Book One, The Chronicles of Gan.
Before I go on, I need to remind you that I almost never review books. Not anybody's. Anywhere. Ever. There are several reasons for this, but the most compelling is that I am simply no good at it. I freeze up whenever anybody asks me what one of my books is about. How can I then face the pressure of reducing someone else’s opus to a blithe two-paragraph synopsis and biopic theme analysis? (The only real master at literary review I know is Jennie Hansen, who is concise and insightful where others -- read: me -- tend toward that blithe thing I mentioned earlier. It’s one of her many, many gifts.) While Daron sent me a copy as a kindness, he didn’t ask for a review. He probably didn’t want one, knowing my skill at it, so I won’t surprise him — pleasantly or otherwise. But I will make a few personal observations. (Which are nothing at all like a review. Ask anybody.)
First off, I was immediately intrigued with the concept: Three tribes are at war on the planet Gan, unaware that the sign of Christ’s birth on an unknown world—Earth—is about to appear in the heavens. That’s heady stuff—and an idea I’ve loved ever since reading a Ray Bradbury short story in a similar vein. In fact, it’s something I’ve dinked around with myself for several years now. I’m glad at this point that I never finished. I never even approached Daron’s imagination, style, and touching message.
To my surprise, I was captivated from the first chapter. I like sci-fi, but I love historical fiction. The Thorn could be both. It reads like it could have happened in Zarahemla—had there been two suns and three moons. It has visionary men and epic battles; it explores themes of loyalty, betrayal, patriotism, treason, miracles, and loss of faith. (Any of that sound familiar to anybody else?) And it was so real! While I had a sneaking suspicion from his blog that Daron can write, I have to admit I didn't expect to get as caught up in the story as I did. At one point I actually turned down a page corner thinking, “This is a great scripture story. I'll read it to my Primary kids.” The telling part of this is that I remembered that I no longer teach Primary before I remembered I wasn’t reading a book based on scripture. (No comments on the brain cells, or lack thereof, please.)
No biopic theme interpretation to be found here. I will say instead that as I read I felt my testimony of faith, hope, and charity strengthened. On Gan, when all else failed and plans fell to ruin, these three principles remained -- even as they have and will everywhere, throughout eternity.
I'll conclude by confessing that I finished the first installment of The Chronicles of Gan with tears in my eyes. It was late evening. I looked out the window at the darkening sky and wished I could sit once more under the stars and share this book with my father.
That, my friends, is the highest praise I've ever given a novel.
Daron, did I remember to say “thank you”?
Visit Daron Fraley’s website HERE for a link to his blog and a scad of “real” reviews of The Thorn. Be sure to check out Angel’s Song, a companion short story to the first of the Chronicles.