Operator ""B""

Edward Lee, Author
Edward Lee, Author Cemetery Dance Publications $30 (150p) ISBN 978-1-881475-73-6
Reviewed on: 12/30/1996
Release date: 01/01/1997
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In a departure from his roots as a horror novelist, Lee (The Ushers) presents a near-future UFO thriller novella that begins with the apparent suicide of one Willard Farrington, a test pilot with surgically altered three-fingered hands. The story then cuts to how Col. Jack Wentz, second only to Farrington as a test pilot, is inveigled away from his family (with whom he is about to be reconciled upon retirement from the Air Force) and sent off to a secret underground test facility in Nevada--Papoose Lake, Area S-4. There he finds that his mission is to fly an OEV (Operational Extraterrestrial Vehicle, or in plain English, a flying saucer in working condition) to Mars, to prevent a Russo-Japanese probe from bringing back a lethal virus. Wentz accepts his duty: his hands are altered and he learns to fly the OEV, but when he reaches Mars (along with Col. Jill Ashton), he is stunned by a new series of lethal discoveries. The action never stops, but the brevity of the narrative makes every scene feel rushed; even the exotic hardware that plays a central role in the story is sketchily described. The only exception is a subplot involving Wentz's wife and son, in which the author skillfully covers the high emotional price covert operations exact on the families left behind. That plot thread isn't broad enough to lend the whole novel emotional substance, however; though not without merit, Lee's latest won't full satisfy SF or thriller fans. (Sept.)
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