Monday, June 30, 2014

Book Review: 'The Madness Season' by C. S. Friedman


1 / 5 Stars

‘The Madness Season’ (495 pp) was published by DAW Books in October, 1990. The cover painting is by Michael Whelan.

I got to page 236 of the book’s 495 total pages before boredom overcame me, and I abandoned ‘The Madness Season’.

‘Season’ certainly has an interesting premise: for three hundred years, Earth has been in subjugation to the Tyr, a race of reptilian aliens who communicate telepathically and adhere to a caste-based social structure.

The Tyr ensure Earth’s continued vassalage by rapidly identifying anyone who could be a potential rebel or troublemaker, and either summarily executing them, or exiling them to colony planets in deep space.

Daetrin, the hero of the story, is a vampire – here defined as a metabolic disorder that requires the acquisition of vital nutrients from human or animal blood. The mutation has the benefit of bestowing immortality, superhuman strength, and superhuman sensory awareness to those who carry it.

Since the advent of the Tyr victory over Earth, Daetrin has entered into a kind of waking sleep, deliberately forgetting his past, forgoing ambition, and shielding any and all hopes for the future, with the goal of cloaking his true nature from the Tyr.

As the novel opens, however, Daetrin is discovered and sentenced by the Tyr to exile on a colony planet. Once aboard the Tyrran starship, deprived of nutrients, under surveillance, and aware that any misstep on his part will result in death, Daetrin struggles to survive. For despite his exile, he has one overwhelming goal: discover the Tyrran’s carefully-hidden weakness, and use it to defeat their empire……

‘Season’ starts off promisingly with its 'one-vampire-against-the Evil-Empire' motif, but unfortunately, once Daetrin finds himself aboard the Tyrran starship, author C[elia] S. Friedman diverts from the major plot thread in order to use overwrought, heavily descriptive text to belabor the psychological and emotional traumas through which Daetrin will come to terms with his true nature.

As these psychodramas – usually manifested in the form of lengthy internal monologues, and flashbacks using a different font to signal to the reader how profound and important they are to Understanding Our Character – accumulate in length, the main narrative – how to overthrow the aliens ? – recedes into the background.

It doesn’t help matters when the author starts to insert several subplots into the storyline; one of these, involving a female representative of a shape-shifting alien race called the Marra, is designed to lend a note of romance to the narrative. But these subplots really do nothing more than pad the novel.....and at 495 pp.,  ‘Season’ is simply too long, and could have benefited from being edited down to half its length.

I can’t recommend ‘The Madness Season’ to anyone except those who yearn for a character-driven story that puts forth the well-worn trope that defeating the aliens requires that our heroes first come to terms with Understanding Their Humanity before the fight can be taken to the enemy.

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