Reviewed by Ian Lipke
Alison Ferguson must have had a lot of fun writing Grey Nomad. Obviously, no reader is supposed to take seriously the story of a seventy-year-old woman mixing on equal terms with an intergalactic crew who have problems of their own. The story is meant to ‘take the mickey’ out of us all. If you don’t have a sense of humour, don’t read the book.
In essence, we read the adventures of Joyce Campbell, a seventy-year-old member of the Country Women’s Association, who has persuaded her deeply conservative husband to allow her to inspect a visiting space station, currently located in Canberra. Following her highly developed instincts of putting her nose where it doesn’t belong, Joyce and JT, a companion she collects along the way, find themselves still on the spacecraft when it suddenly takes off. Joyce’s equanimity is shaken when she hears crew members crying that the Thulians had attacked. The Liseran ship, on which Joyce was trapped, was forced into rapid departure from Earth.
Central character, Healer Cyan, aware that Joyce has telepathic powers, makes a point of befriending Joyce, albeit for his own purposes. TJ is another character who pursues his own agenda. Mystery piles on mystery, most stemming from to whom the real sets of loyalties abound. It does not take long to work out that the Liserans (or Earth) has been attacked in a power play by the Thulians. High power politics, characterised by underhandedness and sabotage of the most pure of objectives, lends an earthly feel to events.
Throughout all rests the commonsense approach of Joyce Campbell, surely fiction’s most unrecognised but effective crew member. Her ability to read minds, to understand what the enemy is thinking, is at the root of her success. That, together with the ability to make sound judgments, is really all she brings to the part. However, the author’s soundness in steering her into situations where she can make a difference supports the success of the book.
There are few other characters who stand out. We are left unsure about Healer Cyan. Where his true loyalties lie becomes obscured at the end of the book. Lieutenant Buckland is a strong character, niggling Joyce with her put-downs regarding ‘light cleaning duties’ and jam-making. One would have expected to find her aligned with the enemy when, in fact, she develops into nothing. She just disappears from the coterie of leading characters. Providing Joyce with a ‘dicky-knee’ was a superb touch and subtly reinforced her age.
The dissolution of the marriage between Bruce and Joyce occurred with insufficient lead in. One had to assume that they had been together for many years and had built a relationship in which they at least tolerated each other. Agreement on divorce when initially proposed leaves too many issues unsettled.
The book has its charm. A physically unfit woman with an intrepid heart playing a leading role in a spaceship peopled by aliens is just too rich to be taken seriously, but wrapped in Alison Ferguson’s superb writing, becomes almost believable.
By Alison Ferguson
ISBN: 978 176128 006 1
$29.99; 336 pp