A collection of three novellas that are not what you’d expect from Martin. I’ve never read anything by his co-author here, Lisa Tuttle, and maybe that’s why I was very surprised by the book. I constantly re-checked the front cover to make sure it’s Martin on it and not Ursula Le Guin 😉 After that I’ve read that Tuttle wrote a book with straightforward title Encyclopedia of Feminism and the world made sense again. I don’t want to imply it’s not a good book, I love Le Guin and feminist is not an insult in my vocabulary. But it’s no Game of Thrones, in small scale political conflicts we encounter here hardly anybody dies and the reader is left feeling nostalgic, but optimistic about human nature.
That’s how 2013 Polish edition looks, I share one Polish reviewer’s complaints about sometimes clumsy language plagued by too many repetitions, but I was not dissatisfied enough to get English version to compare. It was an early work for both Martin and Tuttle, so it may not be translator’s fault. Or maybe reading fantasy in my mother tongue no longer feels natural to me 😉
Action takes place on Windhaven, a planet where, centuries earlier, large human spaceship crashed giving birth to a new civilization of people deprived of any connection to outside world, slowly forgetting their past and its technology. Or rather, as was often the case before written history (and sometimes even after that), distorting half-remembered facts into myths. Myths without magic, this is strictly post-sf world, without supernormal stuff.
Windhaven is a world of water and many small islands, reminiscent of Le Guin’s archipelago. The isles are largely isolated, because sea monsters happily attack ships. The surest way of communication is… flight. From the ultra light and very resilient alloys of the crashed ship wings were crafted ages ago, wings that make it possible to fly in the light gravity and windy climate of the planet. Their creators made sure the monopoly of ownership over such precious artifacts will be forever restricted to their descendants, and flyers of Windhaven became a caste, privileged few, above law of mortals, but regulated by their own very strict traditions.
Descriptions of flight, over the sea and around rocky islands are great and really make you wanna take up hang-gliding 😉 Our protagonist, Maris of Amberly, loves nothing more than the moments when she can forget herself in the flight. These are the moments she lives, and sacrifices much, for. But the politics of her world never let her forget that flying is not all. Becoming a flyer against traditions of the caste, than observing revolutionary effects of the transgressions of her youth, she becomes one of the leaders shaping the new world order.
I don’t want to spoil too much, but you can imagine what happened, when ages-old restrictions on who can fly were removed. First- for the sake of meritocracy, to allow the best to get their wings, if they could prove their superiority over heirs of old families. That were not happy about that. And then political leaders realised, that, if anybody can fly, there is nothing essentially sacred about that and no reason for traditional immunity from their power the flyers of old were granted. Leaders not always benevolent.
Martin of today would create something truly terrifying around these ideas. Imagine Greyjoys descending upon Westeros… hell, Targaryens did that, on their murderous dragons… Martin/Tuttle duo of the 80-ties wrote three calm, unassuming stories (tied together with epilogue and prologue) where we see the pivotal moments of Windhaven’s history through the eyes of Maris, from her childhood to retirement. Long, dramatic councils decide fate of her world, battles are small in scale and few in number, dictators involved rather pathetic than frightening, all in all – not everything ends happily, but there is hope for Windhaven after we leave it.
I can easily imagine many more books in this universe, but 35 years after Windhaven’s publication there is probably no chance for that. Still – read it, if you want some optimistic, Le Guin-like stories. Short stories with likeable, characters, fascinating worldbuiling, told by able storytellers.
If you want another epic door stoper, don’t bother 😉