Susan Sizemore

Speculation Press / 263 pages / March 2000

ISBN: 0967197929

Ask most people about the Spanish Influenza epidemic of 1918 and you will probably get a blank stare. Tell them that approximately twenty million people worldwide died as a result, and you may get shock and
disbelief. In the era of AIDS, the dangers of other diseases seem to pale in comparison. Imagine something with the lethalness of the 1918 flu, but spread across galaxies. Suddenly, the astounding loss of twenty million lives becomes a drop in the bucket.

The killer in Gates of Hell is the Sagouran plague. Survival rate: zero. Cure: none. Treatment: lifelong addiction to the drug, Rust. It’s a disaster massive enough to mobilize the forces of every civilisation under the threat of contagion. A medical emergency that merits the involvement of the koltiri, the god-like telempathic healers of Koltirah and the most revered race in the known universe.

A koltiri is beyond price at any time, but never more valuable and sought-after than during the time of plague. The “possession” of Roxanne, a koltiri physician, is something people are willing to kill for. For the time being, she is the captive and property of Pyr, a space pirate with a nasty reputation. What, exactly, he intends to do with the healer is difficult to predict. What others will do to obtain her is limitless.

What develops between them is inevitable from their first meeting.

Susan Sizemore is no stranger to the publishing industry; she has written numerous romances, dabbled in horror, but this is her first science fiction novel. There is plenty of SF in Gates of Hell, but make no mistake about it — this book still has the sensibilities of a romance. Nothing wrong with that, just be aware before you jump into the book. It will not be to everyone’s taste.

Some readers will be disturbed by the pattern of Pyr and Roxanne’s relationship. It is impossible to ignore the intimations of Stockholm Syndrome in the plot. The concept of the irresistible kidnapper is one that is not exclusive to the romance genre, but recurs with uncomfortable frequency. A romance that tolerates violence — no matter how “dashing” the hero — is a cause for concern.

And be aware: there is violence and suffering aplenty in Gates of Hell. Strangely, there is little portrayal of the symptoms of the plague; victims are usually considerate enough to die offscreen before the medicos arrive.

The concept of a universal pandemic is a frightening, fertile device to build a space opera around. Sizemore’s characters are strongly drawn and interesting, if not precisely lovable. Her ear for dialogue makes for some
intense verbal encounters. Her setting, on the boundary of one system and the vast mystery of another, offers ample opportunities for further adventures with Roxanne and Pyr, or any number of the characters in Gates of Hell.

You probably already know whether Gates of Hell is for you or not. Just use your best judgement — you know I trust you.