on January 9, 2004
Previously I read "Wolf in Iron" by Gordon Dickson, and it is one of the best post-holocaust novels I have ever read. A truly wonderful book, and brilliantly written. I was expecting the same qualities in this book.
But here is something altoghether different. Perhaps it is because Dickson is trying to tell the story from the viewpoint of the protagonist, Shane Everett. Little Shane Beast is a translator working for the nine foot tall alien occupiers of earth. Cold dispassionate and unemotional beings, Shane must behave like them to survive. And not only does he survive, but he excells. Is this why the whole story is told in such a cold, logical and dispassionate prose?
The plot is simple and bare, as clean as the cities in the Aalaag occupied world. There are no plot turns, no multiple plots, no side character, no maturing of the hero. Nothing. The tale is simple to the point of starkness. Something that I found to be unsatisfying in the extreme.
The premise of language as a route to understanding has been done far better in "Fine Prey" by Scott Westerfield. There are many more interesting and uplifting novels about alien invasion of earth.
What this book does deliver on is the horror of earth being occupied by a race who are so far above us that we cannot reach an understanding of their technology. A race that does demote us to the status of beasts. As top dog on our planet we have a dreadful superiority complex. We imagine that eventually we would get the better of any alien species we encounter. But what if we couldn't. Dickson's Aalaag are so superior to us that a single fully armored warrior would not be in danger should the whole planet rise against him. Humans become as powerless as a hive of bees to him. As long as we produce output we achive the status of being useful. Otherwise we are little more than pests. Perhaps it is this very vision that makes this book so unsettling?
on November 4, 2002
This is one of the best science fiction novels written since the 1950s. The premise is brutally simple, and utterly plausible. The time is the near future. Earth has been conquered by an alien race that immediately relegates human beings to the status of owned "cattle." At first all hope is lost. Humans have no rights, no aspirations, and the superiority of the alien "Aalaag" invaders is overwhelming.
Eventually a human underground takes root. But it happens in a way that will surprise the reader because it completely avoids the ordinary banality of the usual "underground resistance" type of novel. The ending will startle and surprise.
Dickson's prose is excellent, at times he is poetic and moving. This novel probably features some of Dickson's best writing.
I suppose the thing I liked best about this novel is that it imparts to the reader a sense of both plausibility and wonder to which all good SF aspires, but that only the best attains. This book reads like something that could happen. There is nothing about this story that involves the need for any suspension of the reader's critical facilities. The aliens in this novel seem real. They don't do anything to humans that humans don't do to other, apparently inferior (by human standards) species. It makes you think.
This novel is a "must read" for anyone who enjoys good science fiction, or would like to.