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Saturday 28 October 2023

IN SOLITARY - Book review


Garry Kilworth’s debut novel In Solitary was published in 1977. Since then he has produced novels in a broad number of genres, among them science fiction, fantasy, and history.

Earth has been under the domination of aliens for centuries. The Soal are uncompromising, their laws stating: ‘No member of the Human Race born a native of the Planet Earth may have contact with any other such native by any medium, natural or otherwise, after the age of 170 months [just over 14 years-of-age] except for the performance of mating. No member of the Human Race under 170 months of age born a native of the Planet Earth may have contact with any male member of the same race. The penalty for disobedience of the Soal Law is death’ (p6). Hence, the males are effectively ‘in solitary’ all their life (save for the rare mating events).

The Soal resemble birds with pointed beak-like faces and a web of elastic skin joining the upper and lower limbs; fine hair-like feathers cover their bodies. They’re about a metre tall – ‘more like flying foxes than birds’ (p8).

The book begins with Tangiia – a native Polynesian – embarking to sea on a mating journey in the Oceania area near Ostraylea. Apparently the earthquake of 2083 Old Time had altered the physical relationship between Brytan and Yurop. Apart from the first chapter, the novel is in the first-person, related by another human, Cave, who is serving the Soal in Brytan – until he is banished to live among the mud people… Here, Cave meets a female, Stella, who is quite formidable. They live in tall towers – mushrooms – and barely subsist. Eventually, these two join forces with others, including Tangiia – all the while evading Soal patrols for, clearly, if they were caught congregating, they would be killed.

Of them all, Tangiia is the romantic: ‘She is what makes it so beautiful. Man was made to have woman by his side, otherwise there are just empty holes in our chests where our hearts should be’ (p70).

Kilworth has created an original scenario and populated it with humans and aliens who exhibit all the usual traits – anger, deceit, violence, hate and love. And close to the end, after a rebellion against the Soal, a twist in the tale is revealed.

At 139 pages, it is a short book, but packed with fascinating descriptions of an unusual environment and traumatic events.

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