Friday, November 18, 2016

Book Review: The Ends of the Circle

Book Review: 'The Ends of the Circle' by Paul O. Williams

4 / 5 Stars

‘The Ends of the Circle’ (203 pp) was published in April, 1981; the cover art is by Ralph Brillhart.

This is the second volume in the ‘Pelbar Cycle’, which ultimately comprised seven volumes.

Like the preceding novel, ‘The Breaking of Northwall’, this episode is set more than 1,000 years after World War Three led to the collapse of civilization. The stone fortress of Pelbarigan, located on the upper Mississippi River, is the home of a matriarchal society that is only slowly coming to accept wider interaction with the nomadic tribes that roam the Midwest.

As ‘Circle’ opens, a young man named Stel is finding his place in Pelbar society to be increasingly difficult, even dangerous. Stel has chosen to marry Arhoe, a woman of the Dahmen family, who are notoriously demeaning towards those males who marry into the family.

Although Stels’ affection for Arhoe is genuine, he can no longer suffer mistreatment at the hands of the Dahmen females, and, renouncing the family, sets off on his own into the winter wastes. His goal is a vague one: to travel the western half of what used to be the United States and see if the so-called Shining Sea of the West really does exist.

For her part, Arhoe is unwilling to see her husband abandon her and the Dahmen family; when word of Stel’s disappearance reaches her, she sets out to find him.

Most of the novel is taken up with the twin narratives of the journeys of Stel and Arhoe across the immense lands of the West. Dangers and perils abound, including standard-issue postapocalyptic cults, hostile tribes, and lingering rads from the nuclear blasts loosed a thousand years ago.

As with ‘Northwall’, much of the narrative is focused on the anthropological nuances of the nomadic tribes that roam this future America, many of which – although comprised of whites – author Williams models on Amerindian counterparts.

As sf novels written in the early 80s go, ‘Circle’, like ‘Northwall’, is much more readable than other novels of the era that dealt with sociological topics. Compared to bloated, meandering novels like Donald Kingsbury’s ‘Courtship Rite’, the Pelbar novels are shorter, more focused, and devoid of world-buildings so intricate that they eventually undermine their own narrative.

This is not to say that ‘Circle’ is flawless; it is not. Many of the dialogue passages have a stilted quality, and the pauses in the narrative during which Stel engages in some existential philosophizing are tedious rather than convincing.

With that said, ‘Circle’ is a good sf adventure novel, and another strong entry in the Pelbar Cycle. It’s worth picking up.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Holy cow! I read this one too and forgot about it. I never knew it was one of a series. Maybe I'll go look for them. Sadly I gave up all my collection over the years and no longer have strange gems like this. Thanks for posting.