The Last Hawk

  Puppy:  off
  Word of the day:  gentle, v.

I know I’ve been neglecting the brog, but it’s not for want of material. I’m several novels behind. First, I plowed through Catherine Asaro’s The Last Hawk. It was reasonably well-written, except for all that mangling of the innocent verb “gentled”. Her world of Coba, with its reversed gender-roles and geographic diversity, was well-drawn. The plot was passable. It all fell apart, however, as sf novels so often do, at the level of character.

The protagonist, Kelric, had some moments of solidity, such as his time in solitary confinement, but was for the most part elusive. From his first excape attempt to his final rebellion, he is a man more acted upon than acting. Ixpar, another major character, seemed slightly more promising at the start, but she blended in with the host of Managers quickly enough. Their names and locations were kept straight enough, but otherwise even Avtac, the villain presumptive, was difficult to distinguish from the general run of Amazons.

The author’s inability to make the bad girl bad deserves some note - although the evil deeds of Avtac were horrifying when related from a distance, close up she seemed to be just another Ixpar. This led to some truly jarring plot shifts, as though Avtac were a Dr. Jekyl to her countrywomen and a Mr. Hyde to outsiders.

The best characters were the incidental young people scattered across the book/planet. Kelric’s fellow prisoner at Haka, the Calani who kept falling out windows, the girl physicist/Calani with her male suitor…

It just goes to show you that too much string theory takes the joy out of a book. Ayn Rand would say that such significant things could not happen to such dull people.

Catherine Asaro has a reputation for having put the sci back in sci-fi. All I can say is that she didn’t do it with The Last Hawk. The game of Quis, while very interesting as a cultural artifact, is a mathematical implausibility. While it’s not outright impossible, it’s nowhere near believable enough to pass on just Asaro’s word. Yet not once does the author attempt to suspend my disbelief in Quis as a means of communication. I was left to my own devices to explain the black box that was Quis.

I hate black boxes. If the characters can understand something, then the author ought to be able to, say, include an appendix with the full rules of Quis. Tolkien would have. I’d forgive her Quis, though, if she hadn’t give her primitive society stunners from the get-go, yet made them discover gunpowder and lasers near the end of the book. And name them “lasers”!

There was also plenty of gratuitous sex, as Kelric sleeps his way across the planet - the effect, as Kelric’s affect, was flat. But I’ve read worse plots by people who could write better characters - I have a book beside me that I won’t even lend to people, it was so unredeemable. The Last Hawk was good enough to hand around.

But that review will have to wait…

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