Friday, May 30, 2008

A recursive hunt

kw: book reviews, science fiction, space fiction, space aliens

The three authors of Hunter's Run explore the concept of identity from a new direction. George R. R. Martin, Gardner Dozois, and Daniel Abraham, accomplished authors and editors with many awards and honors to their credit, have crafted a galactic and planetary setting for one man's journey into himself, with the help of a very alien companion.

Ramón Espejo is a most unlikely philosopher. Indeed, by the end of his voyage of self-discovery, all unwilling, he has moved but a minim or two in the direction of self-knowledge. Tough, volatile, a misanthropic, ne'er-do-well prospector with no settled home when "in town", searching for a lucky strike on a planet just a generation into a lackadaisical colonization, Ramón stumbles across a hidden enclave of aliens, and finds himself coerced into hunting for "the other man" who'd also spotted them.

Did I say "coerced"? Think of a leash with teeth, the other end "held" by (or holding?) a 2-meter alien of only vaguely humanoid shape; a leash that can punish or kill as required to keep a captive in line. When the privations of the journey weaken the alien, who can use the leash to "read" the intentions of the captive, the mind-reading begins to go both ways, and Ramón learns why the aliens are so timid, fearing to become known to humans and their more powerful alien patrons.

The man is as close to worthless scum as the authors can portray, yet just as proud of himself (a "tough hombre") as any prince. He has recently murdered, so is none to keen on being driven closer to the "civilization" from which he's on the lam. Of course, his quarry is also far out in the sticks, but is apparently fleeing the aliens, back toward town.

Then he discovers he has somehow been produced from a fragment of his quarry's flesh, not a clone, but as the alien says, a "recapitulation". He is very similar to the "real" himself, and gaining memories, and old bodily scars, by the day. (Aside: Now that is an unlikely technology, to take an ounce of flesh and reproduce not just a body but a mind and memories from it!).

One question the alien asks him several times, "Why does a man kill?", worms its way into Ramón's mind and works a sort of transformation from within. My own experience with conversion experiences led me to spot this as greatly oversimplified, but the authors only had about 300 pages to work with. It is actually quite well done. When Ramón finally meets himself, the ensuing changes in them both make him ready, at the end, to meet aliens on a more level playing field. Other surprises along the way, I'll leave for the authors to tell.

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