by Stuart Clark
Review by Mel Jacob
Silver Leaf Books Llc Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 0978778200
Date: 28 February, 2007 List Price $27.95 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /
Stuart Clark's debut novel Project U.L.F. throws his hero Wyatt Dorren into a hush-hush mission to capture new life forms from a planet beyond the edge of inhabited space. However, neither Wyatt nor his crew know they are not expected to return.
Wyatt has worked his way up from an ex-criminal and Unidentified Life Forms (U.L.F.) team member to an executive position for the Interplanetary Zoological Park (I.Z.P.) Head of the U.L.F. Department, he manages the expeditions sent to newly discovered worlds to capture new specimens for the Park. His boss, the head of the I.Z.P, asks him to lead a secret mission to acquire new animals for an anniversary celebration of the Park. Surprised, Wyatt at first says no. He hasn't done field work for several years, but he finally agrees.
Added to the crew at the last minute, Kate Frere expects to participate in a routine mission to a known planet. When the man who arranged her assignment learns the ship's real destination, he strives to find a means to enable her and his friend Wyatt a chance for survival. Unable to prevent the survey ship's launch only minutes away, he hides a ship locator beacon aboard.
The ship's destination beyond charted space has already claimed two ships and their crews. The planet has been declared off-limits. No reports indicate what killed the crew of the first ship or that of the rescue vessel sent to help.
Kate, a recent graduate, finds herself marooned with the U.L.F. team with no apparent escape and must fight along with them to survive in a hostile environment. Adding to her problems, one troublesome team member has plans for her.
Wyatt's initial puzzlement over the mission and the crew assigned turns to horror when he discovers they have neither the supplies nor sufficient power to leave the planet. Finding the ship beacon gives a brief ray of hope, but the other two ships lie more 1500 miles away and their ship hasn't enough power to make it that far. Surrounded by difficult terrain and hostile predators, they lose one team member.
Dwindling supplies force them to consider desperate measures. Hoping the other ships hold supplies and may have power to at least signal for help, Wyatt calculates they might get to within seventy or so miles of one of the ships. In a desperate gamble, they take off.
A crash landing in a swamp causes injuries to one team member and exposes them to hungry creatures hiding in the area. Last to leave the sinking vessel, Wyatt swims for his life. Once ashore, they still must locate one of the ships. Food and shelter become urgent needs.
When they reach the first of the ships, it is 40 feet off the ground in a huge tree. They find a dead crew. Getting the ship down intact poses more challenges. They do it, but in the process damage the hyperdrive they must have to return home.
Clark offers the reader an exciting story told from the point-of-view of different characters. Some may argue with various story aspects, especially the romance, but the strange creatures he describes and the conflicts among the team members keep the pages turning. He also introduces an intelligent alien who befriends a team member and helps them get the spares they need to fix one ship.
For some unexplained reason, Clark shifts between measurement systems sometimes using miles, feet, and yards, and other times using kilometers. He has a number of characters smoking cigarettes in the far distant future, which dates the story somewhat. One would think other vices might predominate by then. In any event, with this novel behind him, others are sure to follow.