Walking the Night Land: A Detour (Legacy)

We still traveling down Greg Bear’s Way series. We don’t expect to see any connection to William Hope Hodgson’s The Night Land yet.

Essay: Legacy, Greg Bear, 1995.

Cover by Bob Eggleton

 My suspicion is that Bear wanted to do a novel using the strange ecology and biology of Lamarckia and decided to incorporate it into his Way series.

This book is narrated by Olmy, military man, secret agent, and fixer for the Hexamon. We finally learn the details of the mission that got him the gratitude of the Hexamon and an extra bodily incarnation.

It’s a prequel to all the Way novels. Besides Olmy, the only characters that seem to be present from the other books is the gate opener Ry Ornis and Konrad Korzenowski, here still, of course, a downloaded mind residing in an implant in Olmy’s skull.

We hear more of Olmy’s upbringing. While he had Naderite parents, he has Geshel sympathies (hence the implants). He’s ambitious and serving in the Hexamon defense forces and, by his own admission, somewhat callow.

He is selected to go on a secret mission to Lamarckia, one of those planets accessed through the Way. Lamarckia has a strange biology. As the name suggests, life does not operate there on the principles of Darwinian evolution. The planet is divided into zones, ecoi, ruled over by a scion, an entity that creates new biological forms and “samples” (as in taking genetic samples) new lifeforms (even humans) entering its zone and generates new forms. This is not evolution by random mutation sieved through fitness criteria determined by the environment or sexual competition. In fact, there is no sexual reproduction. The different scions don’t reproduce with each other. It is speculated that there may be an intelligence, a queen, directing Lamarckia’s version of evolution in each ecoi.

The political aspects of the story involve a breakway group of Naderites, about 4,000, “divarticates”, who secretly settle Lamarckia and take two of the “clavicles”, the instruments that manipulate openings in the Way, with them. The group was led by Jamie Carr Lenk aka Able Lenk.

The various factions of the upper Hexamon government want to know what’s been happening on Lamarckia and the return of those clavicles.

Stripped of his implants to maintain his cover, Olmy is dumped on Lamarckia.

What he finds when he gets to Lamarckia is that 35 years have passed on the planet, not ten, due to the differential rates of time when passing through an imprecisely tuned gate. Second the colony has experienced famine and now is in the midst of a civil war.

Right from the start, Lenk’s conspiracy was undercut by people who followed him onto Lamarckia but had their own agenda. The inability to grow a lot of normal crops on the planet and its lack of metals further exacerbated the strife.

There were breakaway groups of radical feminists resentful of their status as little more than baby factories. Piracy exists. Children are kidnapped to prop up declining populations. Others have become wistful for the medicines and other technologies they abandoned in the Way. There’s even a small underground expecting a Hexamon agent like Olmy.

I liked the political aspects of the novel, and the final revelations of the personal rancor and slights behind a major political schism seemed realistic.

But I found the exploration of the alien biology tedious at times. Olmy goes on a voyage to finally complete the circumnavigation of Lamarckia and makes friends and starts a love affair.

It all goes wrong at the end. The brutality on Lamarckia ends with an ecological change unleashed by a breakaway group. Olmy, who has been appalled by what he sees in the colony, reconciles himself to it. It’s just another unpleasant episode in human history.

Of course, Olmy survives all this – but not before living a along and unpleasant life on Lamarckia before he is rescued. In keeping with a theme that runs throughout the series, there is an argument on the value of death in human societies.

I’d say, despite the biological speculation – a Bear specialty – this is the least appealing of the Way novels.

But, next posting, we’ll finally arrive at the intersection of the Way and the Night Land.


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