Up to Eric's Home Page To Index Thu Jun 07 18:42:14 EDT 1990

Raymond's Reviews #65

%T Escape from Kathmandu
%A Kim Stanley Robinson
%D June 1990
%O paperback, US$4.95
%P 313
%G 0-812-50059-8

One of the traps that lies in wait for talented young writers is the canard that they ought to be putting their gift to Higher Purposes than Mere Entertainment. A great deal of self-important garbage gets churned out by victims of this delusion who haven't yet learned that a novel that doesn't entertain is like a baby trying to fly before he can walk; the result is at best a tantrum and at worst a fatal fall.

Sad to say, Kim Stanley Robinson had this bug for a while. I thought Icehenge was a self-indulgent, rambling, pointless pile of junk; and The Wild Shore's spindly narrative frame nearly collapsed under the load of Message, Significance, and risible Political Correctness it was made to carry (Nebula juries seem to be unreasonably impressed by that sort of thing, which probably explains why they run a poor second in prestige to the Hugo). After those two failures I wrote off Robinson as just another Bright Young Thing ruined by the artiste syndrome.

Happily, this collection of four dead-on-target comic novellas (parts first published in IASFM) suggests that Kim Stanley Robinson has recovered, and attained enough maturity not to take himself too seriously. His reward, of course, is that he emerges as a better writer than almost any of those who do. And in the process, he retails his messages with a grace and subtlety that could teach the Ellisons and Disches and Vonneguts of the world a few things, and puts all their sad sophomoric little wannabees utterly to shame.

The viewpont character, George Fergusson, is a mountain guide based in Kathmandu. The first part opens with his accidental discovery that another mountain guide, Nathan Howe, has made friends with a real live honest-to-goodness yeti. When Howe returns to the city with his friend "Freds" Fredericks, George agrees to a scheme to liberate Nathan's furry friend from a millionaire trophy hunter who's had the yeti locked up in a hotel bathroom as he schemes how to cover himself in glory by announcing the creature's existence to the world.

Well -- they spring him, but what are they going to do with him? Robinson's yeti is the perfect noble savage, a hairy hominid Buddha of perfect serenity unequipped for survival among humans by anything but a keen sense for who his friends are. They name him "Buddha", in fact, and decide to take him back to his home wilderness.

He makes cameos in parts two, three and four, though, which feature even wackier events like an illegal Everest climb to bury a body and a faked border incident involving demon-masks and mortar rounds of solid turquoise that nearly starts World War III. And there's not a cheap laugh in the book, either; all of them come with that odd flash of recognition you get upon being shown the world from a new angle.

Now, if you've already suspected that Buddha and his Tibetan friends are something of a foil for authorial ruminations on the perversity of human nature and the value of gentleness towards our planet and fellow beings, you're right. Thankfully Robinson has grown wise enough to be witty rather than scathing, and to make the book so much fun that you won't mind the medicine even though you can smell it coming. Would that all writers had learned as much confidence, subtlety and craft.

Up to Eric's Home Page To Index Thu Jun 07 18:42:14 EDT 1990

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