________________ CM . . . . Volume XII Number 21 . . . . June 23, 2006


A Small and Remarkable Life.

Nick DiChario.
Calgary, AB: Robert J. Sawyer Books/Red Deer Press, 2006.
238 pp., pbk., $19.95 (pbk.), $26.95 (cl.).
ISBN 0-88995-342-2 (pbk.), ISBN 0-88995-336-8 (cl.).

Grades 8 and up / Ages 13 and up.

Review by Ronald Hore.

*** /4


Tink suddenly felt hungry. He dug into his vest pockets and pulled out the corn bread the woman had given him. During the day it had been reduced to crumbs. Tink licked at the crumbs, but his hands shook so badly from the cold that he dropped most of them onto the ground.      

It was dark, and he could not risk leaving the fire to search for berries. He went over to the man, rolled him over, took one of the dead dogs by its legs, and dragged it to the side of the fire. He took up the hunting knife and slashed the dog open. The dog was Clyde, Tink noticed, the man's lead bear dog. An awful stench poured out of the beast, along with a clot of steam. He reached inside with the knife and tried to cut away Clyde's guts and liver and heart and entrails. He did so clumsily. He tried not to get blood all over himself, but there was no avoiding getting blood on his hands and arms. Because of the cold it was slow blood, not as messy as it might have been.

Listed as a science fiction book, this tale takes an original look at a first-contact story. The story revolves around the life of Tink Puddah, an alien born on earth in the year 1845. Both his parents are killed, and he is left to survive on his own. The story jumps back and forth between Tink's early days, just trying to exist, and his funeral and subsequent events in 1860 & 1861. To keep the transitions simple, each chapter is headed up by the date. A counterpoint to Tink's tale is the story of Jacob Piersol, a preacher in a small Adirondack Mountain village. Jacob Piersol wants to save Tink's soul as the alien does not believe in Jacob's God.

     The funeral scene is used to illustrate the differences between how Jacob Piersol views the "heathen" Tink and how the members of their small community view this gentle, helpful individual. We also see the contrast in the reaction between when Tink escorts a young woman to the local fair, and the response of her father, when compared to the father's actions at the funeral.

     As well as a story of survival on a strange world, and a conflict with religion, the author illustrates the problems of "being different" from those considered "normal." Tink's unusual appearance is explained away by the locals as being "foreign." One example of the author's take on prejudice involves a chapter where Tink tries to fit in with a group of boys playing baseball. It demonstrates bullying and racial prejudice alive and well in the 1800's.

     The characters in the story are not all one-dimensional. While we have the bullies and the prejudiced, we also have those we would consider as good people who take Tink at face value and treat him as they would another human being.   

       At 238 pages, the author explores several issues, not just those of faith and love, but other serious, thought-provoking matters, such as euthanasia and the after-life. At the back of the book is a Book Club Guide which lists a series of questions to generate some discussion and reflection regarding the contents of the book. There is adventure but also a lot of thought-provoking commentary.

     A literate tale and not for the reader looking for giant space battles and ray-gun wielding monsters, this is a story of an outsider's trying to survive on an alien planet. The difference between this and most tales of the genre is that the alien planet is our planet Earth. The setting, too, in the mid 1800's provides for a change of pace from other survival stories.    

     A Small and Remarkable Life would be enjoyed by someone looking for thoughtful discussion of issues that are still with us today, or someone who is looking for a story that is just a little bit different from the normal in this genre. You don't have to be a hardened science fiction fan to enjoy this pleasant little tale.


Ronald Hore, involved with writer's groups and writer's workshops for several years, retired from the business world in Winnipeg, MB.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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