| 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
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"
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.