Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Dumarest: Mayenne (1973)

Dumarest is getting paranoid, and not without reason. His numerous scrapes with the Cyclan have left him suspiciously eying his fellow passengers on the ship he is traveling on, trying to figure out which of them is the Cyclan agent. There's quite an assortment of voyagers. One is Mari Analoch, the aged procuress seeking to open a new brothel. And there's Ilgazt Bitola a young fop, as well as Harg Branst, the ship's resident gambler. Also aboard are Eisach Daroca, a dilettante, Lady Lolis Egas, the young, spoiled, aristocrat and her bodyguard, the "squat amazon" Hera Phollen. Then there's Vekta Gorlyk, a reserved book dealer, and Sac and Tek Qualish, two dour brothers who are consultant engineers, as well as Chom Roma, an obnoxious entrepreneur. The ship is crewed by Captain Seleem and officer Karn. And finally there is the beautiful Mayenne, a Ghenka, a special type of singer who takes twenty years to train and can enchant with her voice. Anyone of them could be working for the evil cybers. When Lolis and Bitola try to get some kicks by looking at a beast kept in the cargo hold, it accidentally gets loose, killing several people and disabling the engines before Dumarest kills it. The ship is dead in space and all hope seems lost, when a song the Ghenka is broadcasting on the ultra-radio for her own amusement attracts the attention of a powerful alien. It's an intelligent planet from outside the galaxy that calls itself Tormyle. It brings the ship onto itself and makes a habitable zone for the humans. It's so powerful they hope they can convince it to fix the ship. But when some of them disappear they realize Tormyle plans to experiment on them. It wants to understand them, and wants the answer to a question: What is love?

This is a more overtly science fictional tale than most of the previous books. Many of them could just as easily have been staged as heroic fantasies, what with all the knife fighting and gladiator combats. By contrast, this installment has something of a Star Trek feel to it, with the humans having to outwit a vast alien mind. There's some good character interactions throughout, but the problem of discovering the Cyclan agent gets forgotten until they confess all at the end of the book. It doesn't generate any dramatic tension and the revelation seems somewhat anticlimactic.

The soft sexism of some of the earlier books is unfortunately resurfacing. There's a lot of talk of "woman's intuition" and "a woman's logic" which is portrayed as being irrational. And not only do almost all the women fall in love with Dumarest, but the reason Tormyle wants to know about love is because it's got the hots for him too. I think that's stretching things a bit too far.

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