Up to Eric's Home Page To Index Sat Jan 27 14:04:20 EST 1990

Raymond's Reviews #10

%T The Lizard War
%A John Dalmas
%I Baen Books
%D Oct 1990
%O hardcover, $3.95
%P 307
%G 0-671-69851-6

A lot of writers have played with the warrior-mystic-as-savior idea in SF (see RR#5, The 97th Step). John Dalmas has made most of a career out of it. Occasionally (The Walkaway Clause, The Yngling, The Regiment) his variations on this theme have produced adventure SF of considerable originality and verve. Too often, though, the results have been undistinguished yard goods -- visceral fun, but all too predictable. Sadly, The LizardWar looks like another bolt of the generic.

The book begins with a tip-off that advanced aliens are watching -- then plunges us into the travels of Luis DenUyl. He is a member of an order of religious warriors attached vaguely to the Catholic Church, one of the few stable institutions on a holocaust-scarred, low-technology future Earth. He is sent on a mission to destroy a bunch of alien lizardoids who have landed their flying saucer in New England and are gleefully slicing and dicing locals just for the sadistic thrill of it all.

A great deal of fairly pointless adventuring about is then mixed with soliquies on the californicated warrior-yoga Luis's ostensibly Christian teachers have been training him in (they are actually the advanced aliens, of course). The particular variety of life-as-a-videogame mysticism we get sermonized about is is a hobbyhorse of Dalmas's that shows up in every book of his, often to the exclusion of any other idea content; in this one it often manifests as a brand of implausible Castaneda-like psychobabble about "following one's warrior muse".

What plot there is mostly revolves around Luis's won-her-lost-her affair with a lady warrior, a fellow member of his Order who is "more advanced" than he. More cannot be said without telegraphing the plot -- but it is indicative of Dalmas's authorial obsessions that the resolution of the book is eventually achieved not by killing the bad-guy aliens but by therapizing them, quite as if they were a bunch of ditzy Hollywood lushes doing a karmic AA program with Luis and his pals cast as the ex-drunk counsellors.

Your reviewer, as it happens, has actually practiced some of the sorts of spiritual technologies and therapies and martial arts Dalmas has bees in his bonnet about (that being one reason I keep reading his stuff). Your reviewer is of the opinion that the version presented here is a softheaded, silly and denatured parody of the real things -- junk-food Zen, and watch out for falling hot tubs. Watts or Suzuki's nonfiction on the subject is nearly as accessible, but if you insist on being entertained better you should go watch old Kung Fu episodes -- or dig up a copy of Bruce Holmes's Anvil Of The Heart and read that.

Still and all Dalmas is a competent and occasionally quite imaginative writer, and he's even peddled a better grade of mysticism in some of his previous books. I'll probably buy his next one, and the one after that, hoping that he can outgrow or at least integrate his obsessions. If he ever does I think he might become a master :-).

Up to Eric's Home Page To Index Sat Jan 27 14:04:20 EST 1990

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