Sunday, October 25, 2015

Book Review: The Warriors of Dawn

Book Review: 'The Warriors of Dawn' by M. A. Foster

2 / 5 Stars

‘The Warriors of Dawn’(278 pp) is DAW Book No. 135, published in January 1975. The cover artwork is by Kelly Freas.

‘Warriors’ is the first book in the ‘ler’ trilogy, with the succeeding titles ‘The Gameplayers of Zan’ (1977) and ‘The Day of the Klesh’ (1979).

Michael Anthony Foster (b. 1939) also wrote the ‘Morphodite’ trilogy and the standalone novel ‘Waves’.

‘Warriors’ centers on two major characters: a young trader named Han Keeling, and a young woman named Liszendir Srith-Karen. The latter is the descendent of a race of genetically-engineered humans called the ler. 

Created centuries ago, as the result of clandestine experiments into the genetic engineering of humans with unusual physical gifts, the ler rebelled against their masters and fled into deep space. Following initial bouts of suspicion and enmity, relations between human and ler have improved, to the point where the two races co-exist, albeit with bewilderment about each other’s racial eccentricities.

As ‘Warriors’ opens, Han Keeling and Liszendir are teamed up for a special undercover assignment: travel to the planet Chalcedon, where, it is rumored, the human and ler population has been subjected to periodic raids by a group of rouge ler. The origin and purpose of the rogue ler is a mystery, but the existence of such a group is so unprecedented, and so alarming, that the Federation is intent on investigating.

Han and Lisezendir embark on the weeks-long journey to Chalcedon, during which they develop an unusual, inter-species romance. Once on Chalcedon, however, things take a turn for the worse, as both find themselves held captive by the leader of the rogue ler - who, as it turns out, call themselves The Warriors of Dawn.

Han Keeling and Liszendir discover that the Warriors are intent on triggering a race war between human and ler, a war that will result in the defeat of the humans and their ler allies, and lead to the ascension into power of the Warriors. Unless the two can free themselves and contact the Federation, the peace between human and ler will be broken, and the resulting war will revive old hatreds and lead to the deaths of millions……..

‘The Warriors of Dawn’ is one of those 70s novels that was inspired by the tremendous success of Frank Herbert’s Dune. It belongs to that sub-genre of sf that deals, in an intricate fashion, with alien sociology, psychology, and language; such books dominated sf publishing in the interval from the late 60s to the late 80s. Examples include The Left Hand of Darkness (1969), the Helliconia trilogy (1982-1985), Courtship Rite (1982), A Door Into Ocean (1986), and The Shore of Women (1986), among others.

In the case of ‘Warriors’, this means that the plot is a perfunctory aspect of the narrative, which is focused on the interaction between Han, the human, and Liszendir, his ‘alien girlfriend’. There is much exposition – which frequently becomes tedious - on various aspects of ler society. Readers will need to prepare themselves for lengthy, didactic passages about ler music, ler religion, ler architecture, ler upbringing and child-rearing, ler language (termed ‘Singlespeech’), ler coutship and mating rituals, ler conflict resolution, etc., etc.

While I found the first half of the book interesting enough despite these expositions, the second half of ‘Warriors’ sees the addition of yet another plot thread , this one involving the ‘klesh’, a race of humans kept in servitude by the rogue ler. This plot thread doubles the book’s sociological and psychological content and made my reading a true chore.

It doesn’t help matters that the author insists on having his non-human characters speak in the sort of stilted, syntax-warping dialogue that is fondly used by sci-fi TV shows and movies. Here’s an example:

I have never done such a thing, never dreamed of it, never tried to set it in the story-block. But he - that thing was trying to kill you, you more than all the rest of us, for you had found it out, and it knew that only you could find its masters. Myself- so what is termination but the end ? Our regrets and pain are short; but to lose you is a price I will not pay.

Summing up, ‘The Warriors of Dawn’ will appeal only to a narrow audience: those with a particular affinity for sociological sf. All others will want to pass.

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