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Thursday, 20 October 2016

Book review - Promised Land

Third in the Hooded Swan saga by Brian Stableford, Promised Land (1974) briefly recapitulates some of the events in book two (Rhapsody in Black) as it is dead time for Grainger on New Alexandria. While sightseeing in the countryside, he spots a ‘girl’ being chased by two men. He’s the first to admit he’s no hero, but he intervenes, coming to her aid. The ‘girl’ wasn’t human ‘but she was very humanoid… Her skin was golden-brown and looked moist. Her eyes were big and orange. Her hands seemed to be very contortive – her fingers were tentacular and retractable. Beneath her clothing there looked to be some kind of ridge pattern on her back. She had no hair.’ (p11)

It seems this ‘child’ is one of the indigenous species, the Anacaona of the planet Chao Phrya. (Of interest, perhaps, Anacaona was a princess of Hispaniola, 1474-1504). Shortly after Grainger’s encounter with her, the girl was kidnapped and en route to that planet. Charlot, Grainger’s boss, tells him to fire up the Swan and follow. It’s vital, though he doesn’t give any really valid reason.

The people of Chao Phrya are ‘neurotic isolationists’, according to Charlot. They landed on the spaceship Zodiac and declared the planet the Promised Land.

They are permitted to land and Grainger and his captain Eve are escorted by Zodiac crew members into the forest, led by ‘tame’ Anacaona. This is where the story gets interesting, where Stableford indulges himself and the reader with the flora and fauna of an alien world. Illness and disease could be a problem, too, for Grainger was loathe to administer  human antiseptics and bug-killing drugs to the Anacaona, since there was no telling how their metabolism would react. The Zodiac people didn’t seem interested in studying the indigenous humanoids.

The dense jungle is almost like a character in the story, pervasive, intrusive and glutinous. Perhaps the most threatening creatures are the crypto-arachnids – ‘about the size of black bears, except that their legs were longer and made them look more spread out. They were furred like black bears too’, moving ‘with sinuous serial scuttling movements…’ One of their Anacaona guides is a spider-hunter; he plays a flute that immobilises them, ready for the kill. When the guide is overcome with illness, and a half-dozen or so crypto-arachnids close in on Grainger, we’re subject to a few tense pages!

Since the first adventure (Halcyon Drift), Grainger is host to a symbiote, which he calls ‘the wind’; though here he calls it a ‘parasite’.  (p18) Their relationship is closer, the bonding now being two-sided, each seeing the benefit of helping the other. This aspect is one of the attractive features of the series; yet again, I felt that ‘the wave’ was neglected for too long in the story.

There are some anachronistic oddities, for example: ‘He was interrupted by the bleeping of his desk phone.’ Not a vid-phone, just simple voice. Others include references to a ‘jeep’ a ‘train’, a ‘hovercraft’ and ‘helicopters’ and a reference to the ‘Mafia’. I suspect more futuristic alternatives could have been used.

The first-person narrative by Grainger is unchanged, with wit and irony and he’s still the anti-hero.  A fast, interesting read with a mystery at its core.

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