When I read about Visionary from the Stars by Virginia Lori Jennings, I thought that the genre made famous by Da Vinci Code (the search for ancient artifacts affecting modern lives) has also seen rebirth in the sci-fi genre. Though I am not entirely wrong, that does not mean that the book is any less science fiction, or that the book is just a space-based copy of the genre.
Jean McClain, a teenage research scientist on (or rather, in orbit round) a planet called Udoran is “recruited” by aliens called Platonians to “help” them. She is told that another species sends humans on search for an artifact and makes them fall prey to fatal “practical jokes”, and Jean can help save her fellow humans by helping the Platonians.
On moon base, a group of campers come across a cylinder covered in archaic symbols which turn out to be a part of map, giving the location of a Galactic Bible. The group, comprised of a pilot, a family consisting of a botanist and a doctor with their electronics genius daughter, and a scientist, is charged with exploring the map and finding the Bible by traveling aboard a new ship called Star Traveler. They start by getting to Ganymede, where they find second piece of the map.
The map leads them to a planet called Exandra, teeming with intelligent species, where they meet friends and foe and help set up a human colony. Of course, their quest and the colony are not safe as they are met by a very deadly foe.
The book contains memorable human and alien characters, but the story truly belongs to kids, what with Jean McClain, Laurie Kingston and Chris Hagan getting a major piece of the action. Of these, Laurie the electronics genius, who is part of original Star Traveler crew (as engineer and back-up pilot), gets to be in the thick of the things.
I would say that the kids act quite grown up (Laurie is 11, Jean a teenager), and show a maturity beyond their ages, but then, that's not bad, is it? I mean, there are very few children who act their age when becoming heroes, right? I would say the ECOP (Exandra's Caretakers of Peace) part of the story is an interesting touch too, as is the underground movement of the followers of “I Am” (the alien name for God).
The biggest positive point I have in favour of the book is that the goal never overshadows the quest. What with the premise (they are searching for a galactic “Bible” after all), I was expecting a religious book, which would have put me right off (as it did with The Third Secret). But I was pleasantly surprised to see that religious rhetoric is kept to a minimum in the book, and it comes up only when absolutely necessary. I mean, for most of the time you can replace the word “bible” with any book, and that wouldn't take away anything from the story, which scores high in my book.
The second good thing is the basic premise of the book. I mean, if I ruthlessly cut to the core, the whole Foundation series is a quest for an ancient thing (a planet in that case) which has an almost religious status in the lore. So, the theme has a lot of potential to be made into a big series, and it is helped a lot by the author's style of writing.
But it may be that I was hoping for a big series, and that I found the first part of the book a bit rushed. I mean, the part till the crew gets to Exandra sounded like kind of a summary to me, though the action slows down to a more normal pace when the colonisation of Exandra begins later. But then, that's about the only negative point in the book.
All in all, don't look at this book if you are looking for a missionary story or a religious one. But if you are looking for a nice, interesting sci-fi novel, do get your hands on it.