THE STRANGE by Nathan Ballingrud

THE STRANGE by Nathan Ballingrud

Wednesday, May 24, 2023

New Galveston is a rough frontier town, barely hanging on to existence by the sheer willpower of its hard folk and gritty inhabitants.  At its center stands a beacon of light, The Mother Earth Diner, run by a sad man, his kitchen engine (robot), “Watson”, and his tough-as-nails 14-year-old daughter, Belle, who is our protagonist and the narrator of the story.  Oh, and New Galveston happens to be smack dab in the middle of nowhere, on Mars.


Belle is low maintenance.  As long as you pay for your coffee and treat her father with respect, she’s perfectly content, but when a gang from out of town robs the diner, including the only relic keeping her father sane (a recording of Belle’s mother’s voice), shit hits the fan.  Belle wants justice, and she’s going to “get her mother back” if it kills her.


There is a lot more to Mars than the red dust and murderous cold.  When the first human ship crashed into the seemingly dead rock, it awoke something that didn’t appreciate their coming.  Something alien, something STRANGE.  Belle’s already near impossible, but simple agenda will have to contend with “another’s” nefarious one.


Ballingrud combines the dusty, gunslinging style of Louis L'Amour with Bradbury and Burroughs’ visions of Mars, and then he flips the whole concoction on its head with a healthy dose of Lovecraft weirdness.  This novel is at once a gritty western and soft SF space drama - an absolute page-turning pleasure read.