Bewildering Stories

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Steven Barnes’s Charisma

reviewed by Jerry Wright

Charisma Book Jacket
Title: Charisma
Author: Steven Barnes
ISBN: 0812568966
Publisher: Forge
Price: $6.99

I first came into contact with Steve Barnes' writing as part of the writing trio of Niven, Pournelle, and Barnes. The Legacy of Heorot and its sequel were quite well written, as was Dream Park by Niven and Barnes alone.

I really discovered Steve's capability in his novelization of Far Beyond The Stars a top rated Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode. This was an incredibly well-written book which I recommend you all run out and buy. Now. I'll wait.

Back? Good. Because, actually, I should have told you to wait, so that you can run out and buy a NEW Steven Barnes book as well, but that's okay, two runs to the bookstore in a day is certainly not unreasonable. Anyway not for the good stuff. So. On to Charisma!

I can't understand the "black in America" experience on a gut level, but with Steve, I can certainly come close. Charisma starts us off with a little segment in the life of a very talented little 13-year-old black girl named Tanesha. She's sassy, smart, and for some reason acquainted with Musashi, the Nine Principals, and The Art Of War. Just as we are getting to know her, a black guy and a white guy in an expensive car kill her in a hit-and-run, and we are off into a gut-wrenching novel of suspense, nature-versus-nurture philosophy, mind-imprinting, and savagery.

The book jumps around between the POV of a journalist who fell from grace, a group of poor kids just about ready to hit adolescence, a pretty but distressed mom of one of the kids, some nasty meth/etc. pushers, and some ex-secret service people entrusted with a nasty clean-up job -- killing bright kids.

Steve just gets better, and this book, which seems minimally SF except for the mind-imprinting, shows how good he can be. At first, reading the blurbs, I almost didn't read it, but I trust Steve Barnes, and he didn't let me down. The book is a page-turner that just may keep you up late.

Copyright © 2003 by Jerry Wright