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The Stars Down Under    by Sandra McDonald order for
Stars Down Under
by Sandra McDonald
Order:  USA  Can
Tor, 2008 (2008)
* *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

The Stars Down Under is a sequel to former naval officer Sandra McDonald's unusual and engaging debut military SF novel, The Outback Stars. In the latter, Lieutenant Jodenny Scott - decorated for an act of heroism when her previous ship was destroyed - signed on aboard the freighter Aral Sea, where she was dismayed to find her ex-lover, Commander Sam Osherman, and where she befriended Sergeant Terry Myell (who suffers strange dreams of the Outback and the Dreamtime). After Terry and Jodenny activated an alien transportation device, all three ended up traveling instantaneously between worlds - but Osherman did not return.

Now Terry and Jo are married and living in a military suburb on the planet Fortune. All is well in their lives - aside from Terry's hallucinations of crocodiles and ongoing harrassment at work because of his refusal to undergo the humiliation and bullying of chief's training. As usual he keeps his problems to himself. Then, they are approached by Fleet representatives who want them to try to activate the Wondjina Transportation System again, something they had both sworn not to do. A team of scientists departed to do field work and - since Terry's and Jo's exploits in The Stars Down Under - none of the Spheres are functioning. Jo wants to help but Terry is adamantly against it, leading to their first serious quarrel.

Ultimately they're given no choice and, when only Terry is able to get the system working, he's kidnapped and forced to join a mission traveling between worlds in search of the missing scientists - leaving his wife back on Fortune. They have all kinds of adventures, including an encounter with gun-toting aliens - of whose existence Team Space has been aware for some time but has kept secret. They call them Bunyips, or Yips for short. Terry is hit by lightning, continues to see crocodiles, and meets - on yet another world - Aboriginal people, who seem to be testing him, in competition with a Bunyip. They tell him that he is favored by the Rainbow Serpent and destined to join the Nogomain.

To keep her out of trouble, Jodenny is sent on a forced vacation trip to Earth, posing as a civilian. Her passenger ship arrives at the same time as a Yip invasion. And, after traveling to the Wondjina hub, Terry ends up there also. He goes walkabout, ending up at Burringurrah, a sacred Aboriginal site - where he meets his destiny. Sandra McDonald gives us another enticing and gripping read in The Stars Down Under, in which the odd love triangle between Jo, Terry and Sam gets even odder. Though I was uncomfortable with some of the deus ex machina plot twists towards the end, I am very keen to see where McDonald takes this entertaining series next.

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