January 24, 2008


Hunter’s Run. By George R.R. Martin, Gardner Dozois and Daniel Abraham. Eos. $25.95.

The Soldier Son, Book Three: Renegade’s Magic. By Robin Hobb. Eos. $25.95.

Voyage of the Snake Lady. By Theresa Tomlinson. Eos. $17.99.

      Every once in a while, someone comes along with a rip-roaring, thrill-a-minute SF novel that reminds readers familiar with the Golden Age of SF of just what was golden about it: a mixture of strangeness and familiarity in characters; aliens that seem genuinely strange but are fully formed characters rather than unidimensional helpers or antagonists; cleverness in dialogue; to-the-point plotting, with unexpected elements to keep the reader guessing; and enough of a twist ending to create a satisfying conclusion that does not require going on to another part of the same story in some later novel. Now three someones have produced such a book. It is Hunter’s Run, and the authors – George R.R. Martin, Gardner Dozois and Daniel Abraham, accomplished SF writers all – have knitted it together so seamlessly that there is no way to tell where one’s contribution ends and another’s begins. The book is compact at 300 pages, containing within that length more twists and turns than do many multi-novel series. It seems to be the story of Ramón Espejo, a poor Third Worlder who has gone to another world altogether to seek his fortune on a planet known as São Paulo. The spaceships that bring humans there belong to the mysterious Silver Enye, who are among several alien races more advanced than the people of Earth. And it turns out that these known alien races may not be the oddest sentient beings around – as Ramón discovers while finding out that he is not quite the person he remembers himself to be. He initially remembers nothing, in fact; then recalls a few things; then realizes that his body does not exactly match his memory of it; and then finds out that in addition to being hunted, he is expected, indeed compelled, to do some hunting himself. The plot is so clever, the pacing so fast, that revealing too much of what is going on would spoil things. Suffice it to say that Ramón’s tale is not the “who am I?” detective story it first appears to be; that it involves everything from high-tech pain producers to knife fighting and clever use of explosives; and that it proceeds, after much danger and considerable excitement, to a very human twist that unravels what could otherwise be a very nasty conclusion for Ramón. Beneath all the action – as in the best Golden Age tales – is an underlying question: here, it is about what makes us human, and what sets us apart from others of different shapes, beliefs and attitudes. Ramón, who is in many ways a nasty piece of work, was already an outsider on Earth because of being poor and Latino; thus, he is a fine vehicle to drive reader thoughtfulness about alienness – while having nonstop adventures that make Hunter’s Run a very difficult book to put down once you start reading it.

      Renegade’s Magic and Voyage of the Snake Lady are fine books in their way, worth of (+++) ratings, but they are altogether more conventional than Hunter’s Run in plotting and characterization. Renegade’s Magic, although more than twice as long as Hunter’s Run, is merely one-third of the trilogy called The Soldier Son, a story of destiny and duty in a world where magic can be used to capture as well as captivate. The hero is Nevar Burvelle, who has been framed for and convicted of terrible crimes, and wrongfully sentenced to death by his onetime fellow soldiers. Nevar has a magical, vicious alter ego among his people’s enemies, the Speck – and Nevar is in love with a Speck woman. From these and other threads, Robin Hobb knits an exciting but essentially predictable story – can anyone doubt that Nevar will turn the magic that has enslaved him into a force that he can use, somehow uniting himself and his alter ego? This is the sort of lengthy outer-and-inner-quest novel that will appeal to fantasy-genre fans who want to immerse themselves for hours upon hours in a world filled with magical possibilities. But many other novels of this genre have similar appeal.

      One such is Voyage of the Snake Lady, which is not exactly part of a series but is a sequel – to Theresa Tomlinson’s The Moon Riders. Intended for readers ages 12 and up, the book runs nearly 400 pages but uses larger type and more white space than adult-targeted fantasies. It is nevertheless a long book to read, but fans of The Moon Riders will barely notice, because Tomlinson packs so much adventure into this followup. Voyage of the Snake Lady is historical fantasy, more or less, being set in ancient times after the fall of Troy (now known to have been a real city, although shrouded in much mythmaking). The Moon Riders are warrior women welded into a strong, self-reliant band by their leader, Myrina. After the fall of Troy, they live peacefully – but trouble is brewing, and it erupts in this book as Neoptolemus, son of Achilles, seeks revenge against them. There are battle scenes here, to be sure, but the larger issue – as the Moon Riders attempt to cope with storms, shipwreck, even slavery – has to do with the warrior band’s pride: Myrina must learn to accept help when it is needed if the Moon Riders are to survive. It is through that lesson, with the timely prognostication of Cassandra (who in this alternative history did not die at Troy), that a happy ending is eventually achieved. There is nothing profound in Voyage of the Snake Lady, but there is much that is entertaining – especially for young readers who hoped to learn what happened to these women warriors after the end of The Moon Riders.

No comments:

Post a Comment