Up to Eric's Home Page To Index Mon Jun 10 10:05:31 EDT 1991

Raymond's Reviews #108

%T Sugar Rain
%A Paul Park
%I Avon
%D October 1990
%O paperback, US$3.95
%P 384
%G 0-380-71179-6

"Sugar Rain," like "Soldiers of Paradise," the first novel in Park's Starbridge Chronicles series, seems at first blush to have the necessary components -- exotic customs, religious fanaticism, war, revolution in the streets -- for a successful science fiction epic similar to Frank Herbert's "Dune." Yet he does not achieve such success. Why?

The first and primary reason is Park's apparent inability to communicate sufficient background information to the reader. Park is competent, even gifted, at painting individual scenes for the reader's inner eye, but he stumbles over the task of giving the reader enough background about the planet and culture to make these scenes comprehensible. Park complicates this task further by focussing on characters who, for assorted religious and cultural reasons, are culturally incapable of introspection, and thus are almost useless for illuminating recent or distant history for the reader.

The second reason is that those factual details that Park does manage to communicate about the planet are implausible. The story takes place on a desert planet with an 80,000-day year. For half the year, nothing grows. Life is reactivated by a seasonal form of precipitation that tastes sweet, yet leaves a flammable residue. While the ability of periodic rain to make a temporary paradise of a desert is well-known, it strains credulity to suggest that flammable rain can engender enough food to feed even a small population for 80,000 days, even if the inhabitants are capable of creating some purely synthetic foods. Park's tidbits of planetary history, which suggest that humans have somehow managed to live on this wretched dirtball for thousands of (Earth) years or more, further strain the reader's credulity.

Finally, the combination of the characters' lack of introspection and the brutality of the culture discernible between the lines of Park's finely crafted prose undermines the reader's interest. After reading a relatively small number of pages, it becomes clear that life is nasty and degrading, even for the noble Starbridges, in Park's city-state of Charn. Park gives the reader no reason to care about any of his characters, who surge blindly forward like lemmings, apparently incapable of undertaking even the smallest rational action to improve their lot. Park should be commended for attempting a unique story about a unique culture. His attempt, though a failure, is a brilliant one, and readers of "Sugar Rain" will devoutly hope that he learns from it.

[Guest reviewer: Cathy Olanich]

Up to Eric's Home Page To Index Mon Jun 10 10:05:31 EDT 1991

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