4 / 5 Stars
‘Protectorate’ (250 pp) was published by Ace Books in January 1985; the cover art is by Dan La Mountain.
‘Protectorate’ takes place several hundred years in the future, after Earth has been subjugated – with shocking swiftness – by a race of insectoid aliens known as the Wasps. A global plague, possibly introduced by the Wasps, has depopulated 80 % of the planet; the survivors live in one of the three massive cities left on Earth.
Resistance to the Wasps is futile. Not only do they wield technology considerably more advanced than that of Earth, but the Wasps also have the ability to sense hostility being directed their way by any human in close proximity – leading the Wasps to retaliate by causing the suspect’s skull to spontaneously implode...... !
In the largest of the three cities, a middle-aged man - known simply as the Protector - is the highest-ranking individual on Earth, for he is the planet’s sole interlocutor with the Wasps. The Protector’s every waking moment is preoccupied with placating the Wasps, and thus allowing mankind to continue to exist. To ensure that the city’s population is content with this status quo, the Protector is perfectly willing to allow his paramilitary police force, the so-called ‘Killers’, to brutally quash dissent.
As the novel opens, Jeen Vayim, a poet and storyteller, is down on his luck. His latest gig – appearing at the home of an aristocrat living in one of the opulent mansions of the Upper City – has not gone well. Vayim is obliged to return to the gritty warrens of the Lower City, and a stool at Denhagels Tavern, there to nurse a beer and ponder his dwindling finances.
Someone else is at the Tavern this night…..a charismatic young man surrounded by a cohort of beautiful, fawning women. The young man’s name is Gwyann, and his background is a mystery.
Jeen Vayim is ready to dismiss Gwyann as yet another cult leader hoping to find acolytes among the disadvantaged population of the Lower City. But as Vayim soon discovers, Gwyann is no ordinary back-alley prophet. For he has powers that allow him to defy the Wasps…..powers that are making the Protector, and his Killers, increasingly uneasy……..
‘Protectorate’ is one of the better non-cyberpunk sf novels of the 1980s. Author Mick Farren avoids the type of narrative that typified the ‘alien encounter’ sf of that era, as epitomized by the works of C. J. Cherryh, in which the struggle for human and alien to understand and comprehend each other eventually leads to mutual respect and comity. In ‘Protectorate’ the Wasps remain cryptic and unknowable, heightening the possibility that the actions of their truculent human subjects will trigger a devastating retaliation.
Farren also avoids making ‘Protectorate’ a simplistic novel about heroic earthlings rising up against their alien oppressors; righteousness is absent from the tiers of the city, as the warring factions commit all manner of atrocities in order to gain control of the city and influence with the Wasps.
The verdict ? If you like an offbeat novel about Earth under alien occupation, a novel with regular episodes of violence and mordant humor, then ‘Protectorate’ is worth getting.