Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The Masters of Solitude - Marvin Kaye and Parke Godwin

1977; 404 pages.  New Author(s)? : Yes.  Genre : Sci-Fi.  Overall Rating : 7½*/10.

    The plague is coming.  Every tribe of the Forest people can sense it, and they all know that their holistic and herbal medicines will have no effect.  The City has medical technologies and pharmaceuticals that can fight the disease.  But a Force Field surrounds it, and its inhabitants show no sign of wanting to help.  What can the Forest people do?

What's To Like...
    Set along the eastern seaboard of the US around 4000 AD, this is a nice-but-forgotten piece of post-apocalyptic fiction.  The Forest People have telepathy to aid them, but only medieval industrial technology.

They have a curious mix of religions.  Most of the tribes are "covens" (think Druids or Wicca), but one key city is "Kriss" (40th-century Christians).  There are also the non-religious "Mrikans" (Americans) who are mostly interested in money and commerce.

    The storyline is compelling and the characters interesting.  But don't get too attached to any of them, because there's a lot of dying going on.  The book centers on two half-brothers, Singer and Arin; but there are also some strong women to follow.  The battle scenes are gritty and realistic.  There's little or no magic to be found, and the "lep" (telepathy) has limited effectiveness.

    I enjoyed the underlying theme of how different theological and philosophical systems deal with each other.   It was a thought-provoking and appropriate topic for today's world.

Kewlest New Word...
Slatternly : characteristcs of or befitting a slut.

    In the silence of the forest, someone thought of him, and he stirred, surprised and disturbed.  The bitter tang of derision burned the runes of his mind.
    Singer.  Misfit.
    Better to be alone than to live among uneasy coveners casting sidelong glances at him as he passed.  (pg. 1, opening lines)

    "So," he mused with a tinge of bitterness, "you live impossibly extended lives stuffing that electric sponge with everything that possibly can be thrown - or at least all that you and it consider important, and to hell with the world outside."
    She started to answer, but the sheer weight of the effort it would take crushed the impulse.  Marian shrugged.  "Something like that, Singer."  (pg. 384)

There is no courage without fear.  ...  And solitude is often the companion of fear.  (pg. 22)
    The pacing seems a bit uneven and there is a Deus ex Machina to deal with the Force Field.  The ending has a "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" feel to it, and that's not a compliment.  But I think there's a sequel, and if that continues the storyline, then The Masters of Solitude ends okay and it stands just fine by itself.

    The opening blurbs aptly mention A Canticle for Liebowitz, Brave New World, and Tolkien's LOTR trilogy, and if you like those books, you'll like The Masters of Solitude.  The plusses outweigh the minuses here, and overall it was an enjoyable read.  7½ Stars.


Maury said...

Great review, it mirrors my own experience. I still consider this one of my favourite books, in spite of the uneven pacing you mention.

I do want to point out one other issue. The book has two deux ex's, the Self Gate and the Girdle of Solitude. Much effort is spent by the characters, and the authors, obtaining this fantastic weapon.

When it is finally retrieved, it proves to almost useless. It has absolutely no effect on the Self Gate, and the wearer is easily detected in the City. Its entire effect on the plot is to inconvenience one character for a few seconds until it's turned off.

I found this part of the story somewhat annoying.

Hamilcar Barca said...

yep. the ending was a real letdown. which was a shame cuz the book was pretty good up until then.

i remember finding this book on the $1 rack, and buying it because i had heard good things about Parke Godwin. i've never found the sequel (Wintermind), but maybe there's a reason for that.