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Book Review #2, by Eric WeeksMarch 22, 1998
The previous books I reviewed were Virtual Light by William Gibson (3 stars), The Stainless Steel Rat Goes to Hell by Harry Harrison (3 stars), and three books by Gordon R. Dickson (2 stars each, maybe 2 1/2 stars for Outlander). These ratings are for books considered in their categories; Virtual Light is a 3 star cyberpunk book, and The Stainless Steel Rat... is a 3 star fluffy humor book. (If you strongly protest that William Gibson, the master of cyberpunk, should not receive a 3 star rating for any cyberpunk book he writes, you're probably someone will read all of Gibson's books no matter what I think of them -- that's fine.)
In The Mountains of Majipoor, Harpirias is a nobleman who has been sent on an unusual and unpleasant mission. He is to serve as an ambassador to a remote kingdom in the mountains, to make a treaty with primitive people. If you haven't read the previous books, I should point out that this is, in fact, a science fiction book. The most interesting part of the book is not Harpirias's dealings with the king of the primitive tribe, but with Korinaam the Shapeshifter, his guide and interpreter. Shapeshifters are the original inhabitants of the planet Majipoor, and have been long oppressed by humans. The tensions between the human Harpirias and alien Korinaam are the strong point of the book.
However, I found the book frustrating. Harpirias is from a very technical society and is highly educated, yet has no clue how an ambassador should act. He ignores the advice of Korinaam, who is the only one who has dealt with the primitive people before. Also, the relationship between Korinaam and Harpirias never seems to improve as the book goes along. Not only does Harpirias struggle to understand the primitive people he is dealing with, he also struggles and fails to understand anything of Korinaam's personality.
In a good story, the main character(s) should show growth, and
both Harpirias and Korinaam do grow. Perhaps it is only
realistic that sometimes people fail to grow in all possible
ways, that these two characters fail to grow to understand each
other. I think I would enjoy another book which has Harpirias
growing out of some of his ignorance, or else explains better
his flaws. The book is enjoyable, but falls short of the
earlier books in the series; I give it three stars out of four.
(I'd give Lord Valentine's Castle 3 1/2 stars.)
The chances that you'd be able to find this book anywhere are
slim; I found it in a used bookstore, but I don't think many
Eando Binder books are around. If you do find a book by Binder,
I'd recommend it. This book is above average for the
melodramatic space opera sort of sf written in the 1930's. For
example, this book is less sexist than others of that time
period. Anton York's wife Vera actually has some abilities of
her own, and at one point in the book she solves a non-trivial
science problem, not through a cliche such as "feminine
intuition" but actual hard scientific work on her part. The
book never uses the word "buxom" to describe her, a major
difference from other 30's sf. A flaw in this novel and in most
sf novels from the 30's is that the problems grow exponentially
as things go on; the good guys and bad guys are always
developing new weapons that are unimaginably more powerful than
what they had a few pages ago, so powerful that exclamation
points must be used to describe them! As I said above, you
probably won't be able to find this exact book anywhere, but you
may enjoy a similar book if you find one. This particular book
I'd give 3 stars as an example of 30's sf, although it's only 1
1/2 stars when considering sf overall.
The key question of this book is whether or not the Presences are sentient. If they are, and it can be proven, then the BDL corporation will be forced to leave by the off-planet government. If not, the exploitation of the planet by BDL can be escalated. In case you are in doubt of which outcome is more desirable, BDL is headed by extremely evil people. The planet is already a "company planet" and clearly the quality of life will worsen if BDL can show the Presences are nonsentient.
The main character is Tripsinger Tasmin Ferrence, although several other characters are also well developed. The good guys have discovered some clues that hint that the Presences are sentient, and they must find more evidence and determine what to do with it all. BDL wants to stop them, and has already corrupted other Tripsingers and also is covertly sponsoring anti-Tripsinger religious fanatics. In addition to this main plot, Tasmin has to deal with the death of his wife, and is forced to reevaluate much of his past life. In fact, all of the main characters are well-developed and interesting people. The only exception is that the villains are horribly evil, one-dimensional people, with no real explanation for their evil nature other than "power corrupts".
I give this book 3 1/2 stars. I'd give it 4 stars, but I have to reserve a 4 star rating for another of Tepper's books, The Gate to Women's Country, which perhaps I will reread and review in the future. The only shortcoming of After Long Silence, compared with the other book, is that ALS lacks the "something to say" quality. ALS is entertaining but the only message this book tries to convey is a vague sense of environmentalism. It is "vague" as the key question the characters face is not truly environmentalism but sentience.