A delightfully witty story blending farce, black humour, a strong thoughtful plot and rich characterisation into a gourmet novel. Star Dancer has a draining presence and, to the inhabitants of the planet Ojal, this is a life threatening situation. Earth is identified as the planet from which Star Dancer comes. The Ojaliens, with expert help, produce an android, Kybion, and send it into the past to wait for the rise of Star Dancer and prevent it from draining Ojals power. Excellent.
Are you hooked on novelty and bizarre adventure ? Then Id thoroughly recommend the Womens Press series of sci-fi writing, a welcome addition to an area of literature previously dominated by male writers writing for, I suspect, a predominantly male audience.
The genre has a history of being used to explore political dilemmas and situations from utopia to nightmare, but women in sci-fi so far have mainly featured as evil enchantresses, or she-devils and shapely damsels in distress.
Jane Palmers The Watcher turns some of these clichés around and her cast list features a middle-aged black android who falls in love with a middle-aged female humanoid. The watcher of the title is a benevolent 17-year-old young woman, which knocks your aging male warlords into the box marked disposable, methinks.
The only irritating creatures are winged planet dwellers with orange eyes and no hands, which Jane Palmer assures me is a logical development. Do you think she was taking the p...? Theres a fair amount of time travel and inter-planetary travel involved and a kind of android meets Ealing Comedy ambience which is alright if you like that sort of thing.
Its an infinitely more preferable ambienceto that conjured up by Joanna Russ where women dwell in a nightmarish state of oppression, living in harems, valued only for their decorative charms.
Jane Palmer might sound like another character from The Female Man, but she is certainly neither a regular nor an imbiber of the house brew, despite the Womens Press imprint and the assertions on the jacket that The Watcher (Womens Press, £2.50) is satirical, subversive and a send-up. Come off it. After the last three, it must have zipped through their editorial offices like a fresh sea breeze, blowing away the lingering clouds of intellectual fog, emotional steam and the smoke from the verbal pyrotechnics; but it reads not so much like a parody, more like a naive reproduction of what passes in the public mind for sf. It is stocked with cardboard eccentrics, rubber aliens and cranky plot coupons from the prop-room of Doctor Who, and has an Asian (but British to the core) school-leaver heroine whose emotions run the entire gamut from cheerful resignation to plucky resolve.
Gabrielle, awaiting her exam results in a seaside cottage, is approached by the disembodied psyche of the village recluse, the uncannily youthful survivor of a Victorian shipwreck who has been implanted by a time-travelling alien robot with a transmitter designed to attract the mysterious energetic being which is threatening a community of flying hermaphrodites half a galaxy away. Also in the picture: three scheming co-survivors of aforementioned shipwreck, a policeman who is more than he seems, and the enigmatic entities who guide and govern the Galaxy.
And thats not half of it. No shortage of plot, most of it resolved by cosmic corner-cutting via the psychic wave-band, a certain breathless giggly charm, but it would not subvert the world picture of an immature nine-year-old; she and the jaded and exasperated reader of angst-ridden feminist diatribes with a spurious science-fictional gloss being the two people who might enjoy this book.
I must admit I was pleasantly surprised by this one. Its well written, I wouldnt say it was compelling, but its enjoyable enough. The plot is rather involved, it starts at a planet called Ojal where the birdlike inhabitants are hermaphrodites and extremely intelligent beings whose planet is being attacked by a star dancer which is absorbing all their life giving energy resources. They send a robot (the Kybion) to the planet where the star dancer originates which is (surprise, surprise) Earth. The story then continues with four Victorian humans to whom the Kybion gives longevity to help him and the star dancer. The action is then brought up to the present day, with the story taking on some of the attributes of a thriller. The plot is wound up satisfactorily, it is not predictable although not particularly inventive, but it suffices.
If you should pick up this book, dont read the blurb, it is awful, enough to put anyone off the story - it reiterates the fact that the people who write these things do not read the book very carefully.
Refreshingly devoid of any serious social, moral, human or extra-terrestrial issue, Jane Palmers The Watcher (Womens Press, £2.50) flips lightly around the adventures of an Asian teenage girl with no nerves, helped along by a Benson-from-Soap character and an ugly baddie who gets fried by the power source he is trying to steal. If the baddies succeed then an entire planet of one-parent families with wings will perish; but, fear not, most of the action takes place in English villages by the sea. It has the tone of early Eric Frank Russell and a style reminiscent of Enid Blyton and would help the brain-fevered convalescence of those who have just read William Gibsons collection of short stories Burning Chrome (Gollancz, £8.95).
Jane Palmers story also concerns a vampire, though this one sucks energy and is killing off the planet Ojal. The source of the problem is traced to earth, where we meet our Indian schoolgirl heroine, some bulletproof policemen, and a clutch of people living out two lifetimes.
Lacking the serious undertones of I, Vampire, the story is fast-flowing, and we are always sure Our Heroine will save the day, though there are a few Odd twists along the way.
Both these authors ideas of the universe make life appear infinitely more interesting.
Controller Opu is called upon to seek solutions to the invasion of the planet Ojal, and the mysterious sucking dry its energy pools by a force of vampires. Her search leads to Earth where the schoolgirl heroine, the bulletproof black policemen and the youthful hundred year old, are not all they seem. An eccentric satire, written particularly for a female audience who despise the SF genre of space opera and goshers.
Science Fiction & Fantasy Reviews