Up to Eric's Home Page To Index Thu Jan 25 13:01:23 EST 1990

Raymond's Reviews #5

%T The 97th Step
%A Steve Perry
%I Ace
%D Dec 1989
%O paperback, $3.95
%P 294
%G 0-441-58105-6

This novel is a prequel to Perry's Khadaji trilogy (The Man Who Never Missed, Matadora, The Machiavelli Interface) in which he told the epic story of the man who destroyed a corrupt, militaristic interstellar confederation by mythologizing himself into a hero-martyr for the resistance. Emile Antoon Khadaji, before he became The Man Who Never Missed, was trained in the ultimate martial art by one Pen, a Brother of the Siblings of the Shroud. The 97th Step is Pen's story.

All four of these novels are variations on a common motif adopted into SF and fantasy from American contact with oriental martial arts -- the warror-mystic as savior. At its best, this sort of thing can have a deal of mythic resonance and power. At its worst (as in the horrible recent examples of Michael Gear's Spider novels or Don Wismer's Planet of the Dead) it can simply provide an excuse for uttering reams of cookie-cutter-interchangeable chop-sockey -- a sort of cheap carno-porn in which nothing but the body count really matters, and what minimal interest the books hold is in their loving and precisionist descriptions of the technology of mayhem.

Perry's books aren't great literature by any means, but they're written with an economy and occasional wryness that lifts them above most others of this subgenre. Also, Perry has taken the time to do some fairly detailed world-building. This was implicit in the Khadaji books, but The 97th Step actually includes two short appendices full of charming factoids.

Yes, there is violence galore and a lot of absorbing-wisdom-at-the-feet-of- the-masters scenes that will bore you cold if you don't care for that sort of thing. But if you do, be reassured that the mysticism presented here is a rather crisp and pro-rational variety that doesn't overplay its hand. And the violence, though it's written to thrill, isn't prettied up. As in reality, good people can die brutally and heroes can't count on sailing through crises without losing something real.

Can Star Wars really claim as many of these virtues?

Up to Eric's Home Page To Index Thu Jan 25 13:01:23 EST 1990

Eric S. Raymond <esr@snark.thyrsus.com>