Up to Eric's Home Page To Index Wed Jul 10 23:05:13 EDT 1991

Raymond's Reviews #121

%T Hero
%A Dave Duncan
%I Del Rey
%D May 1991
%O paperback, US$4.95
%P 293
%G 0-345-37179-8

Dave Duncan demonstrates his usual quiet competence and wisdom in this book, the same qualities that made The Magic Casement (RR#100) and previous novels such as West Of January and The Reluctant Swordsman such satisfying fare. This time, though, he's after something else. This book is a pointed but never clumsy or cruel satire of the testosterone-fueled wish-fulfillment space-opera.

Vaun, the protagonist, is the ultimate space-patrolman, a hero who has saved his planet --- condemned by it to a deadening round of publicity work on his society's equivalent of the rubber-chicken circuit. And the Patrol he serves is a corrupt oligarchy of which the best thing that can be said is, the alternatives are worse.

Still sharper is Duncan's extrapolation of what life-extension drugs have done to Vaun's world. On Ult, long life has dessicated the family bond and encouraged a vicious, careless sort of hedonism that worships youth and makes final senescence more taboo than murder. Vaun's people are perpetual adolescents without the growth possibilities of adolescents, self-imprisoned on a merry-go-round of duels, orgies, and essentially meaningless status games. And the system is slowly failing as their technology decays and no one bothers to fix it.

Vaun, we learn, is a cuckoo --- seeded on Ult by a secretive Brotherhood of cloned superman who believe themselves to be the vanguard of evolution, destined to replace the erratic "random" humans. Though he declared his loyalty to the normal humanity that raised him, and saved his world from the Brotherhood once, he has never been really trusted. Now, the Brotherhood is making its second move on Ult. And Vaun is not sure where, in fact, his loyalties lie...

Sounds grim, doesn't it? But the remarkable thing about Duncan's book is that it is not just an obvious cynical bummer or a collection of cheap shots at Doc Smith. The author is wiser than that. His world may be a hard place filled mostly with people who can do only as their natures require, but the struggle matters --- even if only to those doing the struggling.

Wheteher you read this as straight adventure or for the levels of reference Duncan has embedded in it, you'll find it entertains and intrigues.

Up to Eric's Home Page To Index Wed Jul 10 23:05:13 EDT 1991

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