ISBN: 0-87997-759-0 Order from: Amazon.com
An interesting novel of a culture clash and the consequences of advanced but disappearing technology.
Reviewed by David on September 05, 1998
Genre: Science Fiction (Regressed Colony, Body Switching, ESP)
Synopsis: Distraught by the loss of his wife Poli, one of the genetically altered and empathic race of Valde, the arbitrator Jannus uses his knowledge of the almost vanished technology of his star-faring Tek ancestors to try to bring her back. However, the few remaining vestiges of the Tek civilization are not ready to relinquish their grasp on the regressed but balanced and evolving colony. Their manipulations are about to plunge the world into turmoil and strife, and Jannus's struggle to use the power of the past may doom the future.
Full Review: This is the third book in the Kantmorie Saga, which began with Pursuit of the Screamer, and continued with Circle, Crescent, Star.
The setting is a bit like Zelazny's classic Lord of Light. Centuries ago, men came to Kantmorie aboard the star ship Sunfire. The advanced Tek civilization has filled the planet with technological fortresses and palaces. They placed the Shai, the huge intelligence guiding the star ship, as the coordinator and enforcer of rules, and began their pursuit of leisure, pleasure and entertainment. Growing decadent, they used their technology of mind and body: they recorded personalities and switched bodies on a whim.
Some of them used genetic engineering to create the near-human species of the Valde as servants and toys. Valde, tall, beautiful, filled with animal instincts, sexually mature at nine and dead of old age before forty, were also gifted—or cursed—with telepathy. One of the Tek modified the Valde to allow interbreeding with humans, altering their birth patterns and almost destroying them in the process. A Tek woman called Bronh gave shelter to the few escaped Valde, and shaped their civilization to survive the genetic meddling of her fellows.
For centuries, the Teks played and fought, created new bodies and abused existing ones. Eventually, the deadly scathe of time struck the mighty Tek—their cities decayed, their intrigues claimed some near-immortal lives, others were overcome by madness or ennui. Their descendants, servants and toys have started their own villages on the fertile planet. The Shai, powerful and ruthless, has destroyed the few Tek mad enough to violate their own scant laws, but otherwise remained an obedient servant of the Tek masters.
As centuries rolled, more and more of the Tek became mad. Many tried to kill themselves, but the Shai, following his orders, inevitably copied their minds onto new bodies. Some of these bodies, passing through the towns of their regressed descendents, emitted a constant mental plea for the release from life. The telepathic Valde, hearing this plea as an unbearable scream, called them the Screamers and hunted down their erstwhile masters.
In Pursuit of the Screamer, a village boy, Jannus, encounters Polly, one of the beautiful and dangerous Valde serving the mandatory stint as a troopmaid. With Valde female births outnumbering the male 10-to-1, troopmaids, hoping to earn their right to a husband, frequently don't survive their military obligations. Surviving a number of dangers, including Poli herself, Jannus eventually encounters the Shai, learns about the agonies of the Teks seeking oblivion and the dangers of trying to give orders to an immortal star-ship. Scarred by her experience in the Tek citadel and growing fond of Jannus, Poli agrees to Jannus's offer of marriage.
In Summerfair, after ten years of marriage to Jannus, and after bearing him, as is common among the Valde, a litter of five daughters, the almost thirty-year old Poli falls ill and dies. Considering that thirty is an advanced age among the Valde, and that Poli has been deeply wounded for ten years by the loss of her telepathy, it is hardly surprising that she had no more energy to live. However, Jannus cannot accept her death. With arrogant passion worthy of his Tek ancestors, Jannus reaches for the dangerous vestiges of the Tek civilization to recreate Poli's body and mind.
The immortal Shai, imbedded within the star ship but able to grow bodies and send them anywhere, has been manipulating the civilization toward his own idea of technological and political progress. He will not allow the dead to come back to life—not for moral reasons but because talk of witchcraft will confuse his plans.
The Tek Bronh, imprisoned within a body of a bird, is busy preparing the Valde for the long-overdue revenge on the descendants of the Teks who abused them so many generations ago. Neither one cares for the fragile symbiosis of the Valde and the trading towns that became the basis for prosperity and progress embodied in Summerfair. But for Jannus and his half-Valde daughters, this symbiosis is the basis for life—and foundation for hope.
This novel, long out of print, is refreshing in several respects. The most distinct is the hope. The sentimental, and at the same time pragmatic approach to death and resurrection is amazingly optimistic. Several times, the disasters are ready to turn the book into a tragedy—and are overcome by determination and good sense.
In fact, common sense is as common in this novel as foolishness. For instance, on one occasion, the townsfolk convinced of a Valde's "witchcraft" are prevented from persecuting her by a court order. Instead, quite legally, they gather nearby in a lawful gathering and think unkind thoughts at the telepathic woman. The "Choral Hating Society", as she sarcastically calls them, eventually force her to leave their neighborhood.
Except for a riot, and a telepathically induced killing frenzy, most characters act consistently, rationally, and even altruistically at times—all moderated by self interest, of course. A couple of romantic sub-plots enliven but do not overwhelm the suspense of the novel.
If you find this book in the library, or have a chance to buy it in a used book store, it's well worth reading.
Overall: 6; Plot: 6; Characters: 6.5; Style: 5.5; World-building: 5.5; Originality: 6.5;
Copyright date 1982, Donald A. Wollheim (DAW Books), August 1982, Mass market, 272 pages
ISBN: 0-87997-759-0 Order from: Amazon.com