A stand alone SF book. Part of the Alliance Space omnibus.

Publication year: 1983
Page count: 388 in the omnibus
Format: print
Publisher: Daw

This book is anthropological SF about a colony on a planet which the human inhabitants call Gehenna. It’s written in short scenes and discussions and mission reports and memos. The reports and memos tell things which the characters either don’t know or don’t have to infodump in a conversation.

The story starts on Cyteen where the Union is launching a top secret mission to build a base and colony on Gehenna. Most of the people going are azi who aren’t even told where they’re going or why. Yet, they’re expected to be the workforce of the colony and start their own families, with which they don’t have any experience. The others seem to be mostly military and scientists who are either traveling with their families to get a new start or retiring, like the governor-to-be who has lost his wife and any interest in life.

Unfortunately, the colonists don’t know that they are set to fail. The Unionists are predicting that the Alliance will expand its reach to that part of space, so the colony is sent there are a complication to the Alliance. The loss of life is seen as unfortunate but required for the good of Union.

We follow the start of the colony through the eyes of the governor colonel James Conn, scientist Marco Gutierrez, and azi Jin. Gutierrez especially is excited about the alien life forms on the planet: the ariels and the calibans which are sort of lizard like. The ariels are small and fly around while the calibans are very large and the recommendation is to avoid them. The calibans build mounds but the scientists don’t know much about them. The previous survey decided that they aren’t intelligent. Of course, such a quick assessment leads into all kinds of trouble.

On the planet, things start to fall apart quickly. Conn decides not to do much research, to the frustration of the scientists, and the equipment breaks down. The colonists wait for a promised ship which should have more equipment and personnel but it never arrives.

The azi, and the others, start having kids but some of them behave in strange ways and the adults don’t really know how to deal with them. There’s a sad difference between the azi Jin and his born children who haven’t been been taught by tape but had to learn everything. The kids see Jin as limited and poor Jin picks up o that. Some of the children seek out the calibans and run away.

Alliance ship lands. At first they try to give humanitarian aid; helping people and even trying to educate them. This ends badly, though.

Then the story jumps ahead about a hundred years. The Gehenna people have broken into two different cultures: one is aggressive with strong class differences and gender roles. It has one male leader who is pretty much a tyrant. The other culture seems to work more with negotiations and while the most dominant leader is a woman, it has several lesser leaders, both male and female. Of course, the cultures are in conflict and the Alliance anthropologists get in involved, in both cultures.

I was really intrigued by the idea of the book. Unfortunately, the execution leaves a bit to be desired. There are a lot of people and a lot of years to cover, so the storyline tends to be choppy and jumps around. We don’t spend a lot of time with each character, so they aren’t terribly deep.

I was fascinated by the calibans and their alien ways. In some way, they reminded me of the way the mri bonded with their creatures (the dusei) in the Faded Sun trilogy, but calibans seemed to be far more independent and more alien. Yet, they were integral to the two societies in the latter half of the book.

The Union and Alliance are shown in very different light in this book. The Union’s actions are contemptible: they send thousands of people in a situation they aren’t expected to survive. Poor azi. The Alliance is ready to give humanitarian aid but their efforts aren’t a success. We see the results of their aid through the eyes of Dean who at first didn’t even know anything about planets. When the Alliance people have educated him, he doesn’t fit in with his fellow colonists but neither is he one of the Alliance people. Yet, if I understood things correctly, he was one of the people building the more moderate society.

Some of the wildlings, the people who run away and live with the calibans in the mounds, kidnap people and gang rape them. Yet, nothing is done about it. In the two cultures which evolve, the wildlings seem to be like priests. I really didn’t like that.

Overall, I really enjoyed the book but I would have like to know more about calibans and how the two different cultures formed.