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February 21st, 2003

C.J. Cherryh is probably best known for her Alliance-Union universe stories. In the last few years she's begun to branch away from the complex politics of that world - into yet more complex politics elsewhere and elsewhen.

Hammerfall is the first volume of a new series. Set on a desert world, populated by tribal colonists, it depicts a struggle against the elements that has shaped a culture that was obviously once hi-tech and space-faring into one similar to the pre-Islamic Arab world. An epidemic of madness has led to the world's near-immortal ruler, the Ila, calling for the mad to be brought to the hub of the world - the city of Oburan. Marak Tais Tain is one of the mad - but he's also a failed rebel...

The madness is driving its sufferers east, out into the raw lands that have yet to be changed by the hand of man. The Ila sends Marak and a group of the mad out into the east to find the source of the madness' compelling call. It's a mission that will change the world completely, forcing an end to its isolation, and an accounting for the Ila's sins. But before that happens, Marak needs to save as many as he can before the Hammer falls from the sky.

Cherryh is telling a story of change. Changed worlds, through nanotech and terraforming, changed peoples, and changed ideas. Marak isn't a catalyst for change - he's one of those who changes the most. Instead, the changes are wrought by powerful presences, somewhere off stage. The Ila has raped a world, forcing change where none was needed, or (indeed) even permitted. Now she must pay the price, and it's the one-time rebel tribesman who must help build a new world from the shattered ruins of the old.

Hammerfall is an excellent story, and a very different direction for Cherryh. It will be interesting to see where she takes the rest of this new series: The Gene Wars.

Good news from home...

In this week's sitting of the States of Jersey, the Island's government voted to send a letter to the UK Government protesting any attack on Iraq without a UN mandate.

"Twenty seven members voted in favour of Deputy Geoff Southern's motion, and seventeen against."

It may not mean much, coming from 45 square miles in the English Channel, but it's my homeland, and I'm proud of them - especially as they are still in the middle of a nasty set of financial negotiations over their offshore banking and aren't getting much support from the UK...

(Also this is to note that the new BBC Jersey site is a much better source of island information than the Jersey Evening Post's This Is Jersey...)
While I prefer the original UK title His Majesty's Starship, unfortunately Ben Jeapes' first novel is out of print in the UK, and so (as Ben suggested) I had to order it from the US, where it's called The Ark.

Sold as YA, The Ark lives in that territory where adult fiction and YA fiction merge into one. There's no reason why it shouldn't be on the shelves alongside Alastair Reynolds or Ken MacLeod, instead of beside the Harry Potters of this world. Jeapes has written a deeply philosophical novel which explores two key themes: the nature of duty and the nature of obedience. Where does one end and the other begin? How can we stop the slide from duty to blind obedience and then into slavery?

In the mid 22nd century humanity has finally begun to move out into the solar system. There are colonies on Mars, and the asteroids are a vital source of resources. The last remnants of the British royal family are now a spacefaring corporation, running the immense asteroid mining complex UK1. And humanity knows it is not alone - the alien First Breed are here, and they've invited a human delegation to travel with them to a world that they are offering to share with humans. But all is not as it seems - among the humans and among the First Breed. Michael Gilmore has been selected to be the captain of the "Ark Royal", the UK's first starship (as well as nursemaid to the Crown Prince), and when everything starts to go wrong with the interstellar mission it's up to him to find a solution for all humans of all nations - and the First Breed as well,

This is an excellent first novel, it's concise and well written, with plenty of panache. Jeapes has a feel for near future space opera that mixes well drawn characters with action scenes that are well aware of the limitations of the physical universe - even when drawn on the scale of orbital combat.

A good start. It wil be interesting to see where Jeapes takes his career, as YA seems to be too limiting a label for his talents - which deserve much wider exposure.