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Steel Traveler of Urth
Lilley Press
August 2009
Saul Al. Roberts

Steel Traveler of Urth follows post-apocalyptic archaeologist, Jason Father, on a dangerous expedition to the treacherous and brutal Wastes to collect a rare piece of forgotten technology. I assure you, my darling readers, this is not your stereotypical pith helmet and boring old archaeologist.* Jason Father is your silent, Lara Croft ass kicking, sexy, tomb raiding kind of archaeologist. Yes, sexy. Saul Al. Roberts does not disappoint, but delivers an action packed adventure and a steamy made-me-blush sex scene. On his journey, Jason is eventually accompanied by Reggie, a down to earth renegade anthropomorphous spider and Leane, a feisty mutant sex slave with a tail.

The wastes are desolate and at constant threat of a travelling persistent and deadly taint, a remnant of the old world. Even the most innocent appearing plants and creatures are corrupt and seeded with madness. In Urth, the hierarchy of power has dramatically shifted from humans to insects. Humans are victims of slavery, they work to get out of the wastes and into Urthian dream of owning a small farm and no longer being owned. Humans and mutants (and the odd insect) a like, are subjected to cruel punishments and technological experiments at the hands of their insect owners, resulting in their complete transformation into re-programmed cyborg creatures or unintentional magical monsters at the mercy of their owner.

Despite my love of science fiction movies and televisions shows, I’ve had a strong aversion to sci-fi literature. Bad experiences with poorly written sci-fi had left me thinking that sci-fi must include a monumental glossary of invented terms and irrelevant and tedious technological detail. Steel Traveler of Urth revolutionized my world for sci-fi novels. It was an incredible surprise to this disgruntled sci-fi fan that I could once again curl up with a good sci-fi novel. Roberts quickly sucked me into his world and I did not put the novel down until I reached the very end. There are no narrative lulls, nary a superfluous or tedious detail, only an riveting adventure.

Roberts picks his battles for creative invention. Roberts avoids strenuous and tedious details, but at the same time manages to create a world that is technologically and visually different from our world. Roberts’ new terms for races and measures of time are intuitive and easily remembered. My favourite inventions are the proverbs for the different insect races such as “Never believe an opponent dead until you’ve severed his head!” I was pleased that Roberts did not try to overly humanize the insect characters, each still prescribing to their insect culture and mating habits.

Steel Traveler of Urth is what I want a good paperback to be; adventurous, daring, occasionally humourous, a touch of romance and well scripted action. The cover is, admittedly, off putting. However, like the old bipedal proverb says: ‘Don’t judge a book by its cover.’

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