REVIEW: "Camphor" by Mark W. Tiedemann

Review of Mark W. Tiedemann, “Camphor”, Analog Science Fiction and Fact March/April (2020): 84–93 (Kindle) – Purchase Here. Reviewed by John Atom.

Contains spoilers.

Remy serves as the representative of a large interstellar empire to a colony that’s been isolated from the rest of humanity for centuries. After three years on the post, Remy receives a visit from Havelock, another representative sent there to investigate — and if necessary, prevent — the potential spread of a deadly virus that originated from a non-native animal on the planet. Their investigation leads to a surprising revelation about the planet and its native population.

At a time when our own planet is on the verge of a viral epidemic, this story is bound to resonate quite strongly with anyone who’s been paying attention to the news. Even though the story’s conception is likely unrelated to COVID-19, it still manages to hit a nerve.

That said, this story is ultimately not about the epidemic. Rather, it is a slow-building mystery about the secret past of the planet and its inhabitants — and as far as the mystery is concerned, it is a rather weak one. There are several things that don’t quite add up and require a serious leap of faith on behalf of the reader. The explanation for the natives’ inoculation is hand-waved into the story, and so is the solution of the mystery. Moreover, I found the plot seriously lacking in any significant stakes or obstacles for the characters. Things more-or-less fall into place one after another, making for a less than compelling read.

There are things to appreciate in “Camphor,” but the overall plot makes for a weak mystery that does not hold up to its potential.