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Reminds Me A Bit of Vintage Andre Norton

Stars Over Stars
There has been a recent fad in the US for pet wolves or wolf-cross dogs. The owners of such animals will explain that they are perfectly tame and can safely be allowed to protect and romp with children. The problem that many of these people fail to recognise is that such an animal may be tame, but is not domesticated like a dog, who has thousands of generations of genetic coding behind him that tell him humans are boss, no matter what.

To the wolf or wolf-dog, the human is boss only so long as he remains strong in the wolf's eye, remains worthy to be alpha male of the pack. All too often, the owners of such animals find that they do something totally natural... which the wolf interprets as a sign of weakness, and the wolf makes his move to be alpha. Among wolves, this is a natural occurence, and, as soon as the weaker animal submits via body language, the other animal is genetically programmed to literally be unable to continue the attack; but if the weaker does not submit, the stronger will kill it. Humans, unfortunately, cannot signal submission in the proper mode, and so the owner suddenly finds his pet trying seriously to tear out his throat and may or may not survive, but will certainly be hurt.

So what has that got to do with a science-fiction review?

The Hrinn, an alien race who make up rather more than half of the "good guy" characters in this book, are basically seven-foot-tall wolves with double-thumbed hands. Their society is organised along the lines of the Terran wolf-pack, and they have the same built-in dominance/submission reflex to determine packleaders.

They also have the ability to "blueshift" -- basically to shift into a hyper-metabolism state in which they literally can move faster than human eyes can perceive. The time they can blueshift is, necessarily, limited by available energy reserves stored within their bodies, and too much blueshifting exhausts them or, in extreme cases, can even burn out the ability to blueshift.

Which is what happened on a previous mission, to Heyoka Blackeagle, a hrinn raised on Earth by a human -- an Oglala Sioux. (That would be in "Black on Black", the prevous book by this author)

Heyoka, along with a human partner, is assigned to teach an experimental Ranger team composed of mixed human and hrinn personnel how to work together in a military structure in order to fight the insectoid flek, a race that lands, kills off the local inhabitants, and then transforms conquered worlds to match their smoky, heavy-metal rich homeworld.

The problem is that native hrinn, raised on their homeworld in their native society, cannot or will not set aside their natural dominance/submission instincts, and cannot seem to learn the human concepts of obeying, orders not because the person issuing the order can kill you if you don't, but because he is in command. They also have no concept of military strategy, being sublimely confident that nothing can stand up to them head-on. Oh, and they regard humans as inherently weak and inferior and not worthy to command because they cannot blueshift.

So, here on a world that the flek began to "terraform" and then, for no known reason, abandoned, this ill-conceived and inherently unstable military unit is training and doing maneuvers.

And then someone discovers and accidentally activates a flek transport grid that beings the flek's attention back to the world, just as the hrinn/human interface begins to fall apart.

Meanwhile, over in the communities of the laka, the natives, yet a third story strand begins, as something is going wrong with the attitudes of some members of the thoroughly-controlled, rigidly-structured laka society... some of the breeders are beginning to remember racial memories of "fighting" and "attacking"...

All three strands will eventually come together and form a pattern -- an aspect of hrinn religion says that all of life is controlled by patterns, and the current one may well be "stars over stars"... if anyone can determine what it is and what it means.

Another reviewer apparently compared the previous book in the series to Heinlein's "Citizen of the Galaxy"; having not read it, i cannot speak to that. However, what this book rather more reminds me of is a typical Andre Norton "juvenile" from the same period -- a world that is essentially a puzzle set for a relatively young protagonist who discovers that he is, somehow, the focus of Great Powers which he must learn either to control or to avoid in order to solve the riddles he faces and save the situation in the end.

Done well, this is formula almost always yields a strong story. While not up to Norton's level yet, Wentworth gives us a generally-satisfying tale that, while it may disappoint in some ways (i have a few problems with the whole concept of the hrinn as a race, which cost the book at least one star in my rating) still pretty well delivers on what the author intended.

I shall probably make it a point to read the next volume, in order to see if Wentworth can keep things together and moving forward.