(1981 / 2015) George R. R. Martin & Lisa Tuttle, Gollancz, £16.99, trdpbk, 381pp, ISBN 978-1-473-20894-0
1981! That long ago? Well perhaps the quotes on the back cover give away just how old this book is, or rather the owners of the quotes. There’s one from A. E. van Vogt who died in the year 2000, another from one of my favourite writers, Roger Zelazny, who died further back in 1995 – can you believe that? Twenty years ago! And there is one from Anne McCaffrey who died relatively recently in 2011, and perhaps the McCaffrey quote is apt given the subject matter of Windhaven and the potential it had for being turned into a series like McCaffrey’s 'Pern' books, but this never happened. Why? Discuss.
One reason could be that it is a single volume story, following the life of its major protagonist, Maris. Secondly it was written when Martin and Tuttle were partners, and perhaps, thirdly, Martin had still to get his series writing mojo on at this point in his career, as this was written years before he started Game of whatchamacallit? Also, while he still had to pen that vampire classic Fevre Dream, his writing career did lurch slightly with the failure of his epic, end-of-the-world, horror novel, The Armageddon Rag which diverted him into the world of writing and developing TV series.
In Windhaven Maris is a fisherman's daughter living on the island of Lesser Amberly, in fact, she is the fisherman's adopted daughter which is a crucial plot point, for on the water World of Windhaven where news, and songs and stories are carried between the myriad islands of this world by the flyers borne high on silver wings that are fashioned from the remains of a space ship that crashed on the planet years ago. To be a flyer is a great honour, but a very elite one as flyers can only pass their wings on to a member of their own family. Maris is lucky that her father, Russ, was a flyer until he injured his arm and could fly no more, and therefore she is allowed to fly when she reaches the age of 13, but she can only fly for a few more years as, unexpectedly, years later, Russ' wife gives birth to a son, Coll, and the wings by tradition are passed to him, denying her the ability to fly, even though it is clear that Coll hates flying and endures the training, but has no real confidence or skill or relish to ride the air waves between the islands. Thus, starts Maris' quest to get her wings back by challenging law and tradition to allow flyers to be chosen on the basis of their skill and prowess rather than family connections.
As you might expect from two great writers there is some detailed, but not overwhelming, world-building going on here. Flyers don’t have it easy, despite their status, it’s a lot more difficult that just gliding between islands. Flyers can get careless and crash, they can be blown off course and die of exhaustion and drown, unable to make it back to land; or are attacked and eaten by the creatures called Scyllers who live in the sea if they stray too close to the currents that kiss the waves; and given the rigidity of their wings, landing isn’t as easy as it seems, but despite the dangers, Maris was born to fly, and will stop at nothing to regain her wings, but she should be careful what she wishes for, because her actions will have repercussions on those around her, and those that follow. In Windhaven, Martin and Tuttle give us strong characters, with all their flaws, and powerfully descriptive flying sequences. It is a single-volume story following the life of its major character and I was sorry that the story and the life came to an end, but Windhaven deserves to be read, and not just by fans of Martin’s later work.
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