Early on in W. Michael Gear’s Abandoned, a newcomer to the planet Donovan marvels at the beauty of its alien forest: “He could have imagined nothing like it short of a VR holo fantasy come to life. The stuff of dreams and exotic special effects.” Unfortunately, Donovan—named for the first of many humans to die on its surface—bears less resemblance to James Cameron’s Pandora than to its mythological eponym, the holder of a box of unlimited horrors. Flesh-burrowing slugs, tentacled tree-dwelling “nightmares” and snakelike “sidewinders” are all constant threats to the lives of Donovan’s luckless colonizers.
This second installment of Gear’s Donovan series picks up where its predecessor Outpost left off, as Donovan’s settlers adjust to the presence of a group of stranded terrestrial officials who arrived to enforce order and found their means of return less reliable than expected. Talina Perez, the unofficial leader of the settlers, continues to grapple with the mental presence of “her quetzal,” a raptor-like creature whose psychic ghost has haunted her ever since she killed it. Kalico Aguila, the once-unflappable supervisor of the newcomers, longs for her former rank in the totalitarian Earth she left behind, even as she finds herself growing strangely comfortable in her new surroundings. Unbeknownst to either of them, Mark Talbot, a marine lost in Donovan’s lethal wilderness, finds a small community of Donovanians living far from the epicenter, who may have found a way to work with their deadly environment rather than against it.
Gear alternates between these and other threads with flipbook swiftness, successfully maintaining the atmosphere of casual horror that characterized Outpost. (The settlers’ vocabulary for the threats that surround them recalls the Southern U.S. with its slangy deadpan: “gotcha vines” are scarier than they sound.) At the same time, he introduces a new wrinkle to the situation by asking whether the creatures of Donovan are thinkers as well as devourers. Starved summer-action movie enthusiasts would do well to start at the beginning, but established fans of Outpost will find a satisfying expansion of Gear’s perilous universe.