Timothy Zahn: Overview

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Author: Don D'Ammassa
Editor: Jay P. Pederson
Date: 1996
Publisher: Gale
Document Type: Critical essay
Length: 1,089 words

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Timothy Zahn started his career primarily as a short story writer for Analog magazine during the early 1980s. Although most of his early stories are reasonably entertaining, they were largely formulaic. His blend of sound extrapolation of scientific principles and well-paced, convincing plots began to mark his work as unusual in such stories as "Between a Rock and a High Place," an exceptional story of a disastrous accident in space, "The Cassandra," and "When Johnny Comes Marching Home." The most noteworthy of these, and still his best single shorter work, was "Cascade Point," which won the Hugo award. It deals with a strange phenomenon associated with travel at faster-than-light speeds during which human beings are able to see alternate versions of themselves.

His first novel, Blackcollar, also demonstrated another of his recurring concerns—technological augmentation of the human body and the role of the professional soldier in society. Earth has been subjugated by alien conquerors despite the best efforts of the elite Blackcollar units to defend humanity. A generation later, one man learns that some of these supersoldiers have survived, and sets out to use them to overthrow the invaders. Their limited but genuine success is plausible, and the story as a whole is convincing and fast-moving entertainment. Zahn returned to this setting for a sequel, Backlash Mission. The secret to the success of the Blackcollars is their use of a secret drug. The secret of its manufacture has been lost, but there is a rumored storehouse deep in alien territory. Although the fast-paced action of the first novel was repeated here, the results are less satisfactory, essentially reprising the original story.

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Gale Document Number: GALE|H1420008906