Up to Eric's Home Page To Index Mon Jan 29 16:49:44 EST 1990

Raymond's Reviews #14

%T Falcon
%A Emma Bull
%I Ace
%D Oct 1989
%O paperback, US$3.95
%P 282
%G 0-441-22569-1

In RR#4 I commented on the persistance of the starpilot-as-magus theme in modern SF, and how it ties in with human needs for transcendence and our culture's ideas about technology and the individual.

In Falcon, Emma Bull picks up this motif but never quite seems to decide what she wants to do with it. It's an odd sort of failure from the woman who wrote that excellent fantasy, The War For The Oaks. The story is very conventional. The protagonist, Niki, is a misfit in his royal family who wants to chuck the trappings of aristocracy and be a starpilot. His plans are disrupted by an engineered revolution that wipes out his family. He flees, disappears and resurfaces as a `gestalt pilot' -- one of a special breed who trade supernal ability for addiction to an enabling drug that destroys their metabolisms within years.

So far, so good. Other authors have certainly similar motifs into books that were lots of fun and even had some important things to say. But after Niki resurfaces Falcon seems to lose its direction; the rest of the book reads like a good deal of sound and fury signifying not very much. This is a shame, because Niki has been developed into an interesting and sympathetic character.

The ending of the book suggests that Ms. Bull was trying to write a novel about character and virtue. The obvious action-adventure-revenge possibilities are worked out partway and then dropped, apparently to make a psychological point (even the eventual confrontation with the family's betrayer lacks zip). The trouble is that Niki does his growing in the first part and the hiatus between parts one and two -- the latter half of the novel doesn't seem to take him anywhere, psychologically, despite a final poor-little-superman fillip that looks regrettably as though it was tacked on as an afterthought.

Nevertheless, this book does have some distinct virtues. Characterization is strong throughout, and especially in the first part of the novel. Niki is engaging, and the world has some nice detail touches. It is really only at the end of it all that the apparent problems in concept become obtrusive -- perhaps other readers will find a redeeming subtlety there that I missed. Overall, I can't recommend this novel -- but I won't pan it, either, and will be curious to see what Ms. Bull's second foray into the SF field looks like.

Up to Eric's Home Page To Index Mon Jan 29 16:49:44 EST 1990

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