Tuesday, June 26, 2007

By Barrington Bayley

So you’re an SF fan. You want all the crazy, swashbuckling action of Dan Dare and the Intergalactic Squid Invasion but the intellectual challenge of A Canticle for St. Squidbert. Oh yeah, and the outlandish fantasy of The Unicorn Chronicles Part XLIV. Whatcha gonna do, read The Economist? How about you try Barrington Bayley, the best-kept secret of SF.

Bayley writes thinking man’s Space Opera. Instead of dryly extrapolating quantum physics, Bayley boldly posits a futuristic world where the archaic art of alchemy rules and faster-than-light travel depends on the ether wind.

Star Winds begins on a decayed Earth where the technology to travel the “Star Winds”, the solar wind that blows through space, is being lost. Rachad, a young apprentice alchemist, makes an alliance with a washed up space-captain Zhorga. Together they will travel the old trade route to Mars before it’s too late to leave the Earth. It’s a desperate gamble to re-open Earth’s trade with the stars.

They find the space lanes strewn with forgotten weapons and strange dangers. Their destination is even more peculiar. Humanity exists in scattered feudal realms under attack from an invading alien race that absorbs people into their collective mind. Rachad is tasked with infiltrating a bizarre stronghold in order to wrest away its secret alchemy for the benefit of mankind.

Alchemy? Feudal kingdoms? Sailing ships? Is this an SF story or High Fantasy? I daresay Bayley realized that SF has its roots, not in the technical reports of engineers, but the fantastic dreams of a society where magic is found in the future. But his stories aren’t simply wish-fulfillment or power-fantasies. Bayley’s characters are well-rounded and his world is vivid with amazing wonders and terrible dangers. Bayley lets us stop every so often to wonder what its all about too. He’s not content to let the scurrying lives of merchant-adventurers, ambitious princes, and mercenary captains to be their own justification. He has the ability to show us the folly of our mad scramble to our demise. Like a good alchemist, Bayley knows that the thing to be transmuted is the metal of the soul.

-Dave Hardy


Charles Gramlich said...

I read this just recently and thought it was well done. Bayley is inventive and this world deserves more exploration. Great setting for the tale. I didn't think the book was great but it was certainly an interesting read.

Dave Hardy said...

Bayley's narrative structure is a trifle odd. He starts with the story of an enterprise to open up Earth's commerce with other planets. Tehn shifts to a story about infiltrating a nobleman's stornghold in order to win a war against invading aliens. Then he drops the main character for a minor character who resolves a different plot point.

Bayley breaks a lot of rules of "good writing". But I enjoy his unpredicatbility so much I find it an assest rather than a liability.

I enthuse about Star Winds b/c it really did drag me in. Bayley has never disappointed me.