Double Helix Tempest, by R Patricia Wayne - 3 Stars
This is a sci-fi saga rather than an ordinary novel. It’s very, very long (think LOTR, War and Peace) and it is intended to deliver a planet load of detail and characterization. The planet in question is Mars, in the future of course, after civilisation on Earth has been lost to an Armageddon and contact with its colonies on other planets in the solar system has been cut away.
The Martian colonists are managed by a government of scientists and the wealthy, factors which go hand in hand there, but that government is overseen by an aristocratic hereditary regent who is supposed to act as a check and balance to keep them grounded, to stop them oppressing the poor neighbourhoods. With ambition and a bit of killing, someone’s trying to buck the system and remove the safeguards on power. People are people, no matter where they are in the Solar System. Then again, maybe that’s what you’re supposed to think is happening. It’s time to begin the investigation.
A core theme in this book is that of the sex ratio. Following generations of genetic engineering, 95% of the population of Mars are female and only some of the 5% males are fertile. Nearly all of the population are slender blondes, so much so that they have no idea what the human race is supposed to look like, i.e. diverse genetic and racial variation. This story isn’t intended to be a comment on that issue but it does show us how BORING a life like that would be. Another subject it opens up is the lesbian life, which is normalised in this because there’s clearly very little alternative. There are sex clubs, naked people, lots of mentions of girl-girl crushes, plenty of panties and in the end that sounds a bit samey too.
On my mobile screen in the Kindle app, this ran to 1,464 pages (I think the paperback was about 882), so that took me a few long days and late evenings to finish. A lengthy book is fine if it has an equivalent amount of strong drama, action and complexity to pack in or at least plants solid islands of drama along a chain. My personal view was that this tale drifted in places and I do wonder if everyone who starts reading this genuinely completes it without skipping forward. I read every page, the only fair way if you’re going to comment on an author’s hard work, but even I was tempted. For example, there’s a good bit around page 1,200 where an assassinated woman leaves a message to her daughter, not quite “Obi-Wan, you are our only hope” but similarly full of trust, fear and tension. Could the same story could have been told faster than that, say in 450 pages? Would it have been more dramatic with less time for the steam to escape? That’s an opinion and there would be a range of views over this as some readers prefer an epic, so lucky them because there’s even some neo-Roman influences dropped in at the end which suggests there’s at least another fifty percent of this fantasy world yet to be developed (Part 2 pending).
The mistake count was very small, e.g. “would shoot” instead of “wouldn’t shoot” at one point, otherwise pretty clear. In case you don’t like it, there were a lot of women swearing, Cs and Fs, but I doubt anyone would be offended as it’s commonplace now and who can tell if this would be any different in the future? The Ranger characters are supposed to be common grunts and you’d expect their speech to reflect that but the characters of apparently higher social worth swear just as often. Spot the difference?
That’s it really, a heavy book and a light review. It was a reasonable story and explored an interesting angle of “What would it be like if…” but I think it would have been more engaging if it had been edited down a little, a lot, and in the next book in the series I hope the other colonies aren’t quite so un-diverse and girly. The Kill Bill-style rebel with the katana was fun though and I hope she gets a run in the next book to shake things up.