Up to Eric's Home Page To Index Fri Apr 27 18:14:25 EDT 1990

Raymond's Reviews #48

%T Shadowplay
%A Jo Clayton
%I DAW Books
%D Apr 1990
%O paperback, US$3.95
%P 396
%G 0-88677-385-7

The first thing you'll notice about this book is that Jo Clayton's prose crackles like bright neon. The second thing you'll notice is that you like the viewpoint character Shadith, a twenty-millennium-old mind recently "decanted" into the body of a sixteen-year-old girl. The third thing you'll notice is the plot, which is, well, more ordinary.

Shadith, running from trouble, stumbles into bigger trouble -- one Ginbiryol Seyirshi, an artistic sadist who choreographs the death of worlds and the self-destruction of planetary populations for a select audience of the rich and twisted. He decides she's just what she needs to round out his trio of `Avatars' -- buman/alien catalysts who should fit the mythology of the oppressed castes on his target world Kiskai and by their very presence trigger the explosion he wants to record in all its gruesome full-sensory detail.

Shadith, the felinoid Rohant and the reptilian Kisken are dropped in the bush country of Kiskai. Their choices seem simple; they can live (by acting out the roles of Virgin Singer, Hunter, and Dancer of God) and bring on Ginbiryol's cataclysm, or they can die. And with every hour they spend on Kiskai, dying looks more likely...

What makes all this work is Clayton's authorial voice -- sensual, startling, allusive, playful, slangy, and vivid as hell (in some ways reminiscent of Alfred Bester or Tom Robbins). It makes me want to go out and read the Diadem books, which I wrote off back when they were first published largely because of the cheesy DAW covers and the impression that they were just another silly random space opera. Shadowplay is loosely connected to these, as was Clayton's recent but less exciting Shadow Of The Warmaster; Shadith was a minor character in Warmaster and the Diadem books.

Yes, I'm impressed. After months of reading the usual serviceable-but-tepid SF genre prose, this book goes down like a dash of chilled seltzer and lime. One official Raymond's Reviews Roman Candle award for Delightful Prose Fireworks and No Pretensions goes to Shadowplay, and a heartfelt wish for more like it.

And more there will be...the ending is a clear set-up for a sequel as Seyirshi escapes off-screen in the nick of time and our friends vow vengeance. I'm looking forward to it.

Up to Eric's Home Page To Index Fri Apr 27 18:14:25 EDT 1990

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