Three recent releases in the world of science fiction explore the ideas and impulses behind revolution and drastic social change. The City Trilogy (Columbia University Press, $27.50, 464 pages, ISBN 0231128525), by Taiwanese writer Chang Hsi-kuo, is a fantastic, richly brocaded collection. Three short novels tell the story of Sunlon City, on the Huhui planet, where the native races are preparing to rebel against the occupying Shan.
Is The City Trilogy an allegory of Taiwan's relationship to mainland China? Consider this trenchant comment by Miss Qi, daughter of a pacifist genius and accidental messenger between the warring factions: "All colonists say that they are taken with the culture of the colonized and that they love the land they colonize. But no matter how nicely they put it, they have one goal: to rule forever and exterminate the culture and the will of the colonized to rebel." Likened to such pop culture classics as Star Wars and The Lord of the Rings, Chang Hsi-kuo's novel where he invents a language, a philosophy and half-a-dozen different peoples is richer than the former but doesn't achieve the stature of the latter, if only because its length does not allow the same depth of writing. Nevertheless, The City Trilogy is a treat for science fiction readers ready to investigate a future seen through a different lens.
I finished Martha Wells' The Wizard Hunters (Eos, $24.95, 400 pages, ISBN 0380977885) with a huge sense of relief. In this first installment of the Fall of Ile-Rein trilogy, Wells delays giving readers the answers to two key questions: why the heroine, Tremaine Valiarde, is researching methods of suicide and whether one of the other main characters is a wizard. I was unsure whether she would tell us before the next book, and whether she would stay true to the characters. She impressed me by doing both. Ile-Rein similar to a 1940s United Kingdom is being attacked by the mysterious Gardier. With the help of her missing wizard uncle's magical sphere, Tremaine discovers the Gardier are using a parallel universe as a supply base. She becomes trapped there, and that's where the book becomes really interesting. Tremaine's father (who may or may not be dead) had publicly been an art dealer but actually was a deadly crime lord. His lessons help Tremaine escape capture and lead a small native revolt. There's much more to The Wizard Hunters that I can't explain in this short space. Suffice it to say that readers will enjoy this visit to Ile-Rien and will look forward to Tremaine's next adventure.
Continuing the theme of revolution, World Fantasy Award winner Ian R. MacLeod's novel, The Light Ages, takes place during an alternate industrial revolution in England. The industry and wealth of this society are powered by magic made physical: aether. Woven into construction, aether ensures that bridges never collapse and that buildings defy the laws of gravity. Long or intense exposure to aether has harmful results, varying from bone-like extrusions to physical transformations. Those affected are called "trolls" and the Gatherer's Guild keeps them far from the eyes of the public in asylums where they are made to do further research on aether. Although the hero, Robert Borrows, is too passive to fully engage the reader's interest, his adventures are definitely worth joining. He travels from his hometown, the northern mining city of Bracebridge, through London to Walcote Heath; avoids joining a Guild (which holds total power, the Houses of Parliament having long since been superceded); becomes a communist; helps produce a revolutionary newspaper; is a plaything of the rich and an assistant to a magician; and always somewhat hopelessly follows his love, Annalise Winters. The Light Ages is filled with wonderful observations, such as Robert's realization that his lifelong enemy is "just a man . . . which to be honest is almost a disappointment." MacLeod's imagined social and physical world and the possibility of regime change are more than enough to keep the reader engrossed until the slightly bitter end. Gavin J. Grant is a freelance writer in Northampton, Massachusetts.