Following the release of his first novel, “Orb,” in 2011, local author Gary Tarulli has returned to the science-fiction genre with “The Symbionts of Murkor,” a story of humanity’s resiliency in the face of hardship.
The book chronicles the struggles and conflict between two rival mining stations on the equally hellish and mysterious planet of Murkor. As each group faces depleting resources and internal strife, the opposing sides are forced to come together for their benefit, and the benefit of all mankind. Meanwhile, Murkor harbors secrets that could challenge the basic concepts of life itself.
With his extensive technological descriptions and histories, Tarulli’s ability to construct an interesting universe is evident. While some may find his long-winded elaborations tedious and unnecessary, they serve an important purpose in world building. Tarulli also extends his scientific and technological expertise to history, providing detailed backstories for both his characters and humanity in general. Tarulli gives his world depth and character, which are absolutely vital in the field of science-fiction. Despite some of the more outlandish inventions and events, Tarulli’s universe is grounded in a sense of reality that is relatable in the same vein of franchises like “Star Trek” or “Alien.” His universe is ripe for further exploration.
Unfortunately, the novel’s narrative is not nearly as interesting as the world it is set in. Jumping back and forth between each mining base, Tarulli builds tension at a snail’s pace, examining central mysteries and issues that are not compelling enough to carry a story. Conflicts between characters are flimsy and half-hearted, rarely amounting to anything substantial. While the book does pick up speed after the first 200 pages, it fails to have an exciting or even satisfying climax. Nothing valuable is lost or gained, and the reader is left with a few lingering questions that don’t need to be answered.
Many of Tarulli’s characters suffer a fate similar to that of the main story. While a few select characters are able to achieve a unique sense of identity, most remain lifeless and dull throughout the story. Rather than honing in on the few compelling characters, Tarulli gives voice to a wide range of characters. While this may have been done to foster his theme of universality, it adds needless complexity to the narrative.
Much of Tarulli’s dialogue is stilted and unnecessarily complex. Even though many of the characters have scientific backgrounds and the work itself relies heavily on science, Tarulli is unable to relate scientific vernacular with normal speech patterns and word choice. Because of this, many of the characters and their interactions feel unnatural and forced. One particularly cliché romance is completely unneeded and irritating.
Throughout the novel, characters break out into half-baked philosophical discussions and soliloquies. While philosophy plays an important role in literature, especially science-fiction, Tarulli throws it haphazardly into mundane character interactions, hoping some of it will stick. These instances are perhaps the most jarring and laughable of the entire story, completely ruining any semblance of immersion.
It is so frustrating to see a world with such great potential be bogged down by so many issues. Besides its excellent world building, “The Symbionts of Murkor” has little to offer.