by Terry Dowling
Cover Artist: Nick Stathopoulos
Review by Lucy Schmeidler
Coeur de Lion ISBN/ITEM#: 9780646477879
Date: 26 October 2007
Links: Publisher's Webpage / Show Official Info /
There are references to incidents in previous books; just as the first book in the series, Rynosseros contains references to events that occurred in its past and are never explained, similar material in this book is an invitation for the reader to either make up his own backstory, or forget about it and get on with the current adventure. For that matter, there is a reference to "Cold People storage" at the beginning of Rynosseros that is only explained in this new volume.
Despite the connecting narratives, the story at hand is always what the book is about: Tom Rynosseros, the Blue Captain, and his world, which is a far future Australia, ruled by tribal authorities, who have both psychic powers and advanced technology, including space satellites and biotechnology, which, at its highest development exists primarily as relics from a glorious future past.
Tom, a "National" (non-tribal) Australian, with essentially no memory from before his emergence a few years back from "the Madhouse", apparently a place designed to induce, not to cure, madness, is constantly trying to make sense of both his own past and the past of the world he inhabits, encouraging the reader to construct what he can from the fragments provided.
The book starts with a poem, "The Leopard", which presents a parallel between the leopard (one of Tom's many nicknames) and Blake's tyger, and between the teller of a story and someone who relives it through the original teller's words.
The opening narrative, "Doing the Line - 1", introduces the concept of "doing the line": one travels out to a deserted spot and then continues, usually on foot, along a fairly straight line, accepting anything one encounters as meaningful. After a long digression listing various mystical traditions that make use of similar acts, we are introduced to Tom Tyson, a.k.a. Tom Rynosseros, doing the line, starting with an encounter with a "belltree", apparently some kind of conscious artificial life, which is not described in full, but only in some details of comparison with other, similar trees: "wind not sun-powered, with a finned crown turning above the diligent where its tiny life sat". And later: "There was a soft music as well now, a low melodious pulse from the dim-recall rods low in the AI's shaft.... Being near most belltrees gave the ozone rush of impossible storms...." And now you know all you need to know--or are likely to be told--about belltrees in general. This is Dowling's approach to many seemingly key concepts, referred to in passing, or "defined" using undefined terms that resonate with possible images.
The belltree tells Tom that he, Tom, fears he may also be a man-made construct, from the same kind of life-house that created the tree, built because they wanted a National Clever Man, for some unknown reason. And this is indeed a fear of Tom's, which leads him on to seek whatever he can learn of his origins, of a life before his years in the Madhouse. Tom tells the belltree that telling stories of themselves is what living things do, and he procedes to tell the tree the stories of himself that form the remainder of the book.
"A Woman Sent Through Time" is a story of belief strong enough to change perception, and the continuing story of Tom's search for proof of his human origin, which he cannot find. At Safelot, where Tom has gone to see whether any of the three Castaway machines there can regress his memories to before the beginning of his current consciousness, he is pressured into going onto the sand dunes to speak to a woman who, according to local tradition, is trapped in a time that is cut off from past, present, and future, perpetually young, perpetually untouchable. Tom reaches her and guesses her secret, which is something the Beachmaster who is in love with her and sent Tom to her cannot accept.
The "doing the line" sense of an intentional encounter with the unknown is echoed in the opening of "The Maiden Death", a nightmarish horror story of being chased by a monster.
Most of these stories involve some form of artificial life, terrible or beautiful, or simply nanotechnology gone wild, and the strange love-hate interplay between these lifeforms and their creators. Tom, who first appeared in Rynosseros as an unquestionably human man, who had spent painful years in the Madhouse attended by AI's and who yet felt concern and sympathy for them, still cares for them not from the perspective of a common origin but simply as one sentient being for another. And the reader, having always experienced Tom as human, feels impelled to continue to do so, regardless of his actual nature.
The cover, by Nick Stathopoulos, who did the covers for the earlier volumes, is a wonder and a joy. A joy, because it perfectly matches the others, which were put out by a different publisher, and a wonder, because the back shows a sand ship with its kites fully deployed, which we've never actually seen before.
Although Rynemonn can be read on its own, I would recommend that anyone planning to read the full series should start with Rynosseros and take the books in order.