Mindworlds by Phyllis Gotlieb
List Price: $24.95
Hardcover: 272 pages (May 2002)
Publisher: Tor; ISBN: 0312878761
Review by Victoria McManus

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Toronto author Phyllis Gotlieb has been called a founding mother of Canadian speculative fiction. She received a Prix Aurora award for A JUDGEMENT OF DRAGONS in 1982 and is an author of poetry and verse plays as well as novels. MINDWORLDS follows FLESH AND GOLD and VIOLENT STARS, but is understandable without having read those prequels.

MINDWORLDS is sociological space opera, a book filled with aliens, organized crime, and complex plots.

The novel opens like a movie. The reader falls immediately into the action as crime boss Brezant negotiates with a group of rogue Lyhhrt in a plot to gain control of the mines of Khagodis. Gotlieb then proceeds to explore her characters in ways impossible in a feature film; the book is more like a series-length television show with a single overarching plotline, such as the popular Science Fiction drama Babylon 5.

Gotlieb introduces her cast of characters in a series of scenes whose connection is gradually revealed. At least two factions of the telepathic Lyhhrt, a crippled Khagodis named Hasso, and two former Galactic Federation agents, Ned Gattes and the android Spartakos, all race towards confrontation in subplots that intertwine and resonate with each other. Intense, sociopathic Brezant, formerly of Zamos Corporation, is most memorable, with his telepathic moll Lorrice; one wonders what Jack Nicholson or Samuel L. Jackson would make of a scenery-gnawing role like his. Ned and Spartakos seem like characters drawn from their own adventure buddy-cop series, harkening back to Asimov's THE CAVES OF STEEL.

The Khagodis are the simplest of Gotlieb's alien creations. Larger than other sentients, their forms resemble the dinosaur Allosaurus but live in a near-utopian society where poets are honored as highly as lawmakers. Other than shape, they are not terribly strange; they seem representative of peace and law that is sadly lacking in the rest of the inhabited worlds. Their alien culture does not directly affect the plot. However, their political positioning in the constellation of species is vital to the book, and both Hasso and his stepmother Skerow offer welcome respite from the dark machinations of the other characters.

The Lyhhrt are more layered. Described as blobs of protoplasm who ambulate in "workshells," Lyhhrt were once invaded by the alien Ix. For protection from that menace, they were obliged to indenture themselves to the Zamos Corporation, a sort of galactic mafia. The Zamos Corporation took full advantage both of the Lyhhrt's telepathy and their amazing technological skills. When the book opens, the Lyhhrt are free of servitude but still being manipulated to their disadvantage. Spread across the inhabited worlds, they are isolated from the telepathic contact that once bound their species together.

The human characters in the novel are all flawed and, thus, interesting. Ned Gattes, an ex-agent for the Galactic Federation, is perhaps easiest to empathize with. He needs a job, and takes one he knows is dangerous; he has a loving relationship with his wife and a strong moral center, both of which conflict with the job he has set himself. In the end, it was Ned who seemed the center of the book rather than the outlandish people of various species who surrounded him.

MINDWORLDS is the descendant of books like E.E. Smith's GREY LENSMAN and Edmond Hamilton's CRASHING SUNS, full of strange aliens and conspiracies but much richer in political conflicts and nuanced characters, and also the level of writing. The only slight annoyance is the formal tone her aliens assume when speaking, particularly the Khagodis, but perhaps this is indicative of their species' admiration of poets. Overall, a book to be recommended to fans of Babylon 5 and, perhaps, to fans of Melissa Scott.

 

2002 Ernest Lilley / SFRevu