Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Book Review: Seeklight

Book Review: 'Seeklight' by K. W. Jeter
4 / 5 Stars

When his first novel, 1972’s ‘Dr. Adder’, was rejected by publishers, K. W. Jeter resigned himself to writing a more conventional sf novel – one without explicit sex and violence, or cyberpunk stylings. 

This second novel was called ‘Seeklight’, and he submitted it to Laser Books, a sf imprint founded by Canadian romance novel publisher Harlequin Books.

Although Laser Books had editorial policies that were considered restrictive as far as sf publishing in the New Wave era was concerned, it also was willing to publish and promote new authors, and in due course, ‘Seeklight’ (192 pp; Laser Book No. 7) was published in 1975, with cover art by Kelly Freas.

(In 1976, Jeter published a second novel with Laser Books, ‘Dreamfield’.)

In his Introduction, Laser Books editor Barry Maltzberg declared ‘Seeklight’ to be one of the best sf novels he had ever read by an author new to the field.

And ‘Seeklight’ is indeed a good ‘debut’ novel. In some ways, it’s better than ‘Dr. Adder’ (which finally saw print in 1984).

‘Seeklight’ is set on an un-named colony planet where society adheres to a feudal paradigm. Some advanced technologies, such as giant transport vehicles, robots, and computers, are still functioning centuries after planetfall, but these machines are constantly breaking down and being abandoned, as the knowledge to repair them is steadily being lost.

The protagonist, a boy named Daenek, lives with his mother on the hills above the quarry that employs most of the local workforce. Daenek is disliked by the people of the neighboring village, who denounce him for being ‘the Thane’s Son’. His mother, a woman of aristocratic bearing slowly losing her health to deep depression, refuses to divulge the reasons for the villager’s antipathy.

Daenek grows up with an awareness that he is of a more aristocratic lineage than the small-minded, mean-spirited villagers. His origins remain a mystery, however, and what little knowledge he can gain of life in the far-off Capitol – his possible birthplace - are gleaned from his conversations with an itinerant quarry-worker named Stepke.

On the eve of his 18th birthday, events take a sudden and dangerous turn, and Daenek finds himself a hunted outcast. He embarks upon a search for the headquarters of the Regent, the Thane’s successor, and in so doing, learns the truth underlying the fate of the Thane……and what it means for the future of the planet………

‘Seeklight’ is a character-driven novel with a clear, uncontrived prose style – one that is generated, to some extent, by the editorial stance of the Laser Books imprint. I found it reminiscent of the novels of British sf authors of the 70s like Michael Coney (Rax) and Richard Cowper (The Road to Corlay) in its reserved tone and deliberate pacing. Like the novels of Coney and Cowper, ‘Seeklight’ closes with a revelation, one that is understated and ambiguous.

‘Seeklight’ also is original in its treatment of entropy –very much an ‘in’ topic during the New Wave era, and one that was becoming increasingly over-exposed in the sf of the 70s. I won’t disclose any spoilers, except to say that Jeter indicates that simply recognizing that a civilization is in the grip of entropy is a difficult and hazardous task.

Summing up, ‘Seeklight’ is a one of the more readable debut novels of the New Wave era, due to its clear prose and compact length. This one is worth picking up.

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