The Alexander Jablokov series continues.
Raw Feed (1997): River of Dust, Alexander Jablokov, 1996.
This is part of the same Jablokov future history as his Carve the Sky and precedes that novel.
Jablakov seems better at shorter lengths, and I think, after reading this novel, I know why.
What seems subtle and sketchily worked out as per the length restrictions of short story or novella comes off as too obscure or too cryptic to work at novel length.
This seems particularly true for some of the characters in this novel.
Rudolf Hounslow is sometimes characterized as mad in the book, but this conclusion is never really justified. Yes, he seems a charismatic leader who often, perhaps inadvertently on a subconscious level, inspires others to take the violent actions he is too hidebound, indecisive, irresolute to take, but he doesn’t seem mad. Nor is his political philosophy ever really explained. Thus we have no idea why it is so appealing. His “Pure Land School” seems a combination of Neo-Confuscianism and stoicism but is never really explicated.
Assassin and ex-prostitute Brenda Marr is a cipher. Her rage and affinity for the Pure Land School is never explained. Her actions propel most of the novel’s events, and I suspect Jablokov is making a statement about how history is a combination of noble and petty motives with the ultimately unknowable motives of a few producing a cascade of events.
Jablokov also never really explains the reasons for the theatrical, violent nature of Martian culture (though most authors don’t delve into the basis of an off-earth settlement’s psychology).
To be sure, there are some good scenes and elements of characterization here.
I particularly liked the thoughts that went through Hektor Passman’s mind before his scheduled execution was well done. However, the political passions of Lon Passman were never explored enough for me.
The idea of “all the world’s a stage” (not actually said in the novel) is a prevalent theme here with the romantic (in the generic sense) Breyton and playwright Egypt Xui. Her husband, Fabian, is the most colorful and intriguing character in the book. Unfortunately, he is murdered less than halfway through, and his death inspires many of the novel’s subsequent events. The corridor gangs he covers as a journalist are also concerned with theatrics and image.
Two of Jablokov’s three main themes are politics and art, and both fuse here in Egypt.
As in Carve the Sky, Jablokov puts forth the notion that politics can be fueled by the creative impulse (hardly a new idea) to forge a new order which will outlast the creator.
Jablokov begins every chapter past the prologue with an epigraph. This is a technique I’m quite fond of since coming across first in Frank Herbert’s Dune. Here, though, most of the quotes are from letters travelogues, art crit and lit crit books and have little to directly do with the characters and events of the novel. Rather they obliquely serve to build up a knowledge of the multi-layers of Martian history, politics, art, and psychology and do so skillfully, entertainingly.
Jablokov also handles well the technique of rapidly skipping from point of view (with interior monologues) to point of view.
All said, though, I found this book overly long and its tale of family politics not very interesting and its story of Martian politics not convincing or detailed enough.
Still, as with most of his novels, there are some wonderfully baroque touches like the word mine (described by a Martian in horrifying terms) and the dust fountain of Seamander.
More reviews of fantastic fiction are indexed by title and author/editor.