Pros:Memorable alien-human relationship, world-building.
Cons:A bit long, characters less than sharply drawn.
Kay Kenyon's Rift is another fine book from a skilled writer, this time centering on a quest, far in our future, to save a planet that has blown a thriving human colony back to the Stone Age or thereabouts.
Recommend this product?
Dramatis personae include:
Reeve Calder, a 24-year-old who has always lived on a space station circling Lithia, the tectonically-active world, while the planetside human enclaves and their "Claver" inhabitants slip inexorably downward into savagery. Calder, an immature dreamer, must grow up overnight when treachery destroys the station and he survives a desperate shuttle crash landing on the planet.
Nerys, part of a small group of Claver women who flee from their starving band to seek out the orthong, enigmatic aliens who have also colonized Lithia and who are rumored to use human women to bear their young.
Loon, a female Claver of uncertain origin who shows signs of having adapted to Lithia's hostile atmosphere and environment, such as the ability to obtain nourishment directly by eating small amounts of its soil.
Mitya, a 15-year-old Stationer boy who is taken along with the main group of the station's personnel who escape when it is obliterated. The station commander, Gabriel Bonhert, is plotting to destroy Lithia also, so that an approaching starship will be forced to take him and his crew away instead of renewing the attempt to terraform the planet. Why is this necessary? Well, worlds that are even remotely suitable for the terraforming process, it seems, are extremely rare.
Kenyon binds these four and several more characters into an absorbing, multi-threaded narrative that effectively conveys the essential strangeness of Lithia, a planet that has been successfully seeded with Earth lifeforms and is now in the process of shrugging them off. It's a weird biological setting peopled with weird cultures and individuals. Calder's quest, which brings him into contact with all of the others, is a solid adventure story, and it's topped off with a powerful climax.
Of the SF books I've read lately, Rift most reminds me of David Brin's The Uplift War. Like Brin's book, one of its most memorable features is a haunting, believable relationship between a human and an alien--a relationship that highlights both our strengths and our follies. Brin, however, has a gift for characterization that Kenyon has yet to match. The journey across Lithia also brought to mind Larry Niven's Ringworld* and its sequels, as well as an oldie, Brian Aldiss's Starship, both of which depict a variety of human cultures.
Rift differs from these other creations, though, in its ecofeminism, being focused on the question of how best to coexist with an essentially hostile planet. Transform or be transformed? It's a question we are already encountering today, as we attempt to sort out our relationship to, and impact on, the planet that sustains us all.
Big Issues/Ideas: 8
Recommended reading: Joan Slonczewski's Door into Ocean and sequels and Sheri S. Tepper's After Long Silence are among the finest entries in the ecofeminist genre, and are recommended along with the books mentioned above.
*I've also reviewed this book for Epinions.com.
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