Collaborators by Deborah Wheeler
reviewed by Nancy Wood
Imagine: Two warring nations in an uneasy truce that’s lasted for over a century. One of the nations is ruled by a king, a position passed from parent to child, unquestioned by citizens. This king is a member of the tribe that united the kingdom to stand against its enemy. The other nation is fierce and warlike, intent on increasing its power, intent on keeping its neighbor off-guard with border skirmishes and challenging news reports. When outside visitors disrupt this fragile balance, the world falls into chaos.
Does this sound familiar, like an utterly human problem? In Collaborators, Deborah Wheeler’s new novel, this scenario is transplanted to an alien world, where the people are creatures who stand upright, but are covered with fur and convey emotion through elaborate mane-like crests. The outside visitors are people from Earth, stranded when their ship crashes through a dark hole in space. The presence of the visitors changes the planet’s political climate. Existing political tensions escalate. Demonstrations lead to riots; riots to rebellion. The ship’s commander gives an order to sweep a riot with a laser-like weapon that maims and kills, yet ultimately subdues. The human visitors become occupiers instead of guests.
But throughout the chaos, there is one tribe, the Wayfolk, who remain true to their spiritual roots. Reminiscent of Quakers, they believe in The Way, the still small voice that can guide and lead. The Wayfolk know that revengeful violence is not the answer. Silent witness is. That still small voice sparks a movement, and things start to change. It’s no coincidence that the Wayfolk are reminiscent of Quakers, as “Deborah Wheeler” is an author’s pseudonym for long-time attender of Santa Cruz Friends Meeting (CA, PYM), Deborah Ross.
The beauty of Collaborators is that you’ll see this story from all sides – the stranded earthlings needing political stability to make their repairs, members of the resistance, members of the hawk-like neighboring country, complicit local government officials, and the people who hide, just wanting it to all go away. All of the characters are collaborators to some extent. Well-intentioned actions lead to dramatic, and sometimes fatal, consequences. Inaction does the same.
Even if you’re not a sci-fi buff, this epic novel is a must read. Deborah Wheeler’s pacing is pitch-perfect. The rendering of the planet is magical. The political drama is as real as anything that would happen here on Earth. Not only will you want to keep reading to find out what happens, but you’ll be pulled along by the emotional arc of Collaborators. It’s been several weeks since I finished the book, and I keep thinking about it, remembering an exquisite moment of compassion or a gesture of kindness in the midst of violence and chaos. But be warned: clear your calendar! Once you start reading, you won’t be able to put it down. ~~~
Nancy Wood is a member of Santa Cruz Friends Meeting (CA, PYM) and an active supporter of Ben Lomond Quaker Center.