Sunday, March 3, 2013

Book Review: 'Redworld' by Charles L. Harness

2 / 5 Stars

 ‘Redworld’ (229 pp.) is DAW Book No. 670; it was published in April, 1986, and features cover artwork by Angus McKie.

On the planet Redworld, the atmosphere and the astronomy combine to give only two primary colors: red, and black. Everything is a shade of those two colors. The humanoid residents of Redworld have two lungs and six fingers, and use a 12-digit-based system of numbering and calculation.

Following a destructive war generations ago, there is a strained truce in place between the two coalitions ruling Redworld: the Scientists and the Clergy. As a consequence of the truce, scientific inquiry is stymied, and horsepower is the primary mode of energy.

Pol Randal is a young man from a formerly well-off family; now, he and his mother scratch out a living in a tiny, two-room apartment above a stable, in the main city of Damaskis. When Pol secures a job at a paper mill on Vys Street, it’s cause for rejoicing.

En route to his first day of work, Pol espies a stunning young woman standing on the steps of a brothel known as the Tower. She soon becomes a fixture of his dreams and fantasies, and he learns that her name is Josi.

The more Pol discovers about Josi, the more mysterious and alluring she becomes. For Josi lives in an apartment adjacent to the Tower, a structure made of metal unlike any in Damaskis. She seems to be thirty years old, even though her former paramours state she was that age when the old wars between scientist and cleric raged in the city streets decades ago. And Josi wears gloves all the time, gloves that have what seems to be a false sixth finger embedded in the fabric.

In due course, Pol’s fascination with Josi becomes a genuine romantic affair. And this romance has its dangers, for Josi and the Tower are a thorn in the side of Dean Gard, leader of the faction of the clerics.

By the time Pol learn the truth about Josi’s origins, and why she represents a danger to the established order, it may be too late…..for Dean Gard intends to quash any hopes for a revival of science, and a path to enlightenment. The future of Redworld suddenly rests on the intertwined fates of Pol and Josi.

Charles L. Harness (1915 – 2005) wrote a number of well-received sf novels and short stories. He wrote ‘Redworld’ when he was 71. Perhaps as a consequence, the novel is more of a coming-of-age story, and a nostalgic, perhaps self-referential look at Young Love, than a sf novel per se.

The intrigue between the vying factions of Redworld society serves as a backdrop for the progression of Pol’s dalliances with the luminous Josi, starting from adoration from afar, to love scenes with something of a softcore porn content. 

The action / adventure elements of the novel are muted, and in its final chapters, the plot takes a metaphysical turn, and its revelations come encrusted with a bit of artifice.

‘Redworld’ is a well-written novel, but one best reserved for those who are willing to embrace a character-driven narrative, with much content devoted to the emotional interactions of the principal players.

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