Saturday, January 14, 2017

Other Worlds Than These

Larry Correia's most popular works have been in what's called the "urban fantasy" genre, which combines magical beings and backgrounds with the everyday world where most of us live. His "Monster Hunters International" is an excellent example, suggesting that most of the monsters ever thought of in story and legend were real, and that secret agencies exist to fight against them. In Son of the Black Sword in 2015, he tried his hand at high fantasy, telling the story of the great warrior Ashok Vadal and his quest to redeem himself after learning the shocking truth of his own early life.

Ashok lives in a world threatened by demons who rule unmolested in the deeps of the waters surrounding his land. He serves the rule of the law, established to guide humans when it became clear that those who claimed to follow gods and deities were instead simply using those beliefs to maintain their power. A Protector, gifted with a magical black sword, Ashok is the elite of the elite until tragedy strikes and he is sentenced to an impossible quest as punishment. But other Protectors hunt him, and he will have opposition both before and behind in his fight for redemption.

Correia drew on Hindu myths for his ideas and some of the features of Ashok's world, but tells his own stories with them. He formalizes his authorial voice from the rough and tumble brawl of the MHI series and leaves out the broad humor for some more subtle laughs (Ashok, about to battle a demon in a fight that will almost certainly kill him, apologizes with perfect propriety to a family whose home he invades and promises to compensate them afterward if he lives).

Son is the first of a projected trilogy of the "Saga of the Forgotten Warrior," and offers a good start. If Correia can maintain for two more books, he'll have a quality entry in the crowded field of epic fantasy series.
Although he's ranged across the science fiction and fantasy landscapes in his 45 years as an author, Alan Dean Foster is probably best known for his novels in the universe of the Humanx Commonwealth, a sprawling galactice milieu dominated by humans and the insectoid Thranx. In 1982's Nor Crystal Tears, he told the story of the first contact between the two disparate species, and the bold action taken by some of their more visionary members that helped birth their most beneficial union.

Ryozenzuzex lives on the frontier Thranx colony world Willow-Wane, where he has always felt vaguely out of place in the highly ordered society of his people. Growing disgust at official impotence against raids and attacks by the aggressive reptilian AAnn, plus a fantastic report from his premate's distant relatives about another alien species, set him off on a journey where he will leave his home and life behind for a chance to learn what he can of the world beyond Willow-Wane. Accompanied by the wealthy poet-philosopher Wuuzelansem, he eventually connects with these strange beings, who wear their skeletons inside their bodies and call themselves humans. Ryo develops a friendship with two humans, Bonnie and Loo, and resolves to not only get them back in touch with their homeworld, but to take steps to cement a contact between the two species. It will require him to risk even more than he already has, with no guarantee even that will be enough to overcome the mutual mistrust.

Foster's gift as a writer has always been his vivid descriptions of non-terrestrial ecosystems and life, and the best sections of Tears focus on Ryo's growth and young adulthood. His imagination allows him to describe life on alien terms in ways that remain recognizable and relatable. The Thranx frequently seem like amusingly fussy academics but every now and again Foster drops in a tidbit that reminds readers they're following non-human beings. He keeps his focus on the hundreds of generations of antipathy human beings have towards bugs, and how it influences the way they deal with Ryo. But he gives the Thranx the same kind of prejudice to overcome, since human beings resemble in construction and scent the predators who hunted them in their prehistory.

Tears falters a little once Ryo and his human friends begin interaction with the human society that sent them. Much of the last third of the book seems sketchy and somewhat rushed, with the ending especially feeling hurried and artificial. It's still a good first-contact novel, standing out by offering much of its story from the perspective of the non-human species. And for Foster fans, it's a nice look at the initial steps that would create the Amalgamation backdrop for his best-known work.

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