(1995) Alison Sinclair, Millenium, £16.99, hrdbk, 330pp. ISBN 1 85798 264 9
Alison Sinclair's first novel is a beautifully crafted reverse colonisation novel. A group of Burdanian settlers share a planet peacefully with a race of indigenous empathic aliens, but the colony is dying as the population dwindles. Some seek to return to Burdania, but a catastrophe for which they may be responsible means they cannot know what will remain of their home world. As the plot unfolds and we learn more of both the aliens and the protagonist, unique among Burdanians in that he is accepted by the aliens and understands more of their empathy, the legacies of both the Burdanian and his own personal catastrophe become intertwined. The first two chapters are a struggle, but once overcome, the remainder is a delight.
(1995) Alison Sinclair, Millenium, £6.99, pbk, 419pp. ISBN 0 75281 707 8
Legacies, first published in 1995, is being reissued in 1998. This book therefore sells. It undeniably has a market, so why are we reviewing it now four years after its initial publication? The answer: because a casual SF book buyer might well be misled by the cover and back-page blurb. We were, which is why it is not going to get the review it arguably deserves.
The plot: a multi-generation interstellar mission by an alien race returns to its home world half expecting to find it destroyed since they thought their star drive had vaporised it on their departure. They find instead a civilisation struggling to recover. One of the landing craft’s crew then joins a survivor community incognito and so the story begins to unfold as to what has happened in the intervening years and how the surviving community will receive the returning star mission descendants.
Legacies belongs to that sub-genre of what is known as ‘world-building’ and one cannot argue that the author has not crafted an intricate society. The book itself has received much praise from Interzone to Locus, and no doubt this is deserved. However, Concatenation is first and foremost a vehicle for hard SF although we do cover softer SF as well as fantasy and have reviewers who cater for these sub-genres. But when the cover proclaims that this work is ‘world-building of an intricacy and invention to rival Herbert and Clarke’ our Tony is going to send it to our harder SF reviewers like myself. Unfortunately this quote is completely misleading. Legacies, though SF, reads like a fantasy. This in itself is not a fault and there are plenty of readers who enjoy both SF and fantasy. However Legacies has nowhere near the science content of even the softest of Clarke’s novels. Nor do its undeniable intricacies form the inter-connected whole that Herbert manages. As such the cover quote is at best completely out of context and at worst drivel.
Legacies is, I consider, a weak book. For instance it is peppered with invented terms (one presumes to convey a sense of an alien species and culture) and so necessitates a glossary, revealing that the author is unable to convey that sense of other-worldliness through plain English. Yes, Herbert called his characters by strange names, but that was largely it. Sandworms were... well giant worms that lived in the sands of Dune. Spice was, well a trace biochemical on Dune which the sand worms concentrated. Herbert related his alien World to the English language which he was using to convey the story. In Legacies we have terms like ‘tarwyn’ which means ‘outcast’, or ‘shikarl’ which is a kind of prescience. So why could not more identifiable terms be used? For me this is the sign of an author unable to write convincingly. It is also one of the reasons I find most (though not all) fantasy unsatisfying: the author can do whatever they want without any necessary connection to the way the universe works or even the way we speak.
So why am I making a meal of this? Well I am of that old school which believes that publishers (while obviously hyping up their wares a little) should properly signpost their product so that their customers know what they are getting. I am afraid that they have done this with Legacies so doing a great dis-service to both their readers and the author. As a consequence, having warned hard SF readers, I am passing this review copy on to someone who reads (and likes) both fantasy and SF. If the cover blurb had been more appropriately written then this book would have gone to the more appropriate reviewer in the first place. (With this in mind see the above review by Graham for a more appropriate perspective.)
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