Monday, January 29, 2007

The Bookshelf #1: The Delikon

[Image taken from Fantastic Fiction]

So, I read books. The prose kinds without pictures. Heck, I've got a novel sitting on my hard drive. And yet it's taken me this long to start reviewing them for you. I guess it's because, in some ways, books are more private than most media- everything happens inside your head as you turn arrangements of letters into a story. Plus, it takes longer to read a novel than to see a movie or read a comic (for most people, anyway), so everyone moves at their own pace and it's hard to find common ground. Unless you're in a book club. But the point is, I'm changing that. Starting now.

I can't quite recall where I picked up H. M. Hoover's THE DELIKON; my bookshelves are full of adoptees from book fairs, second-hand stores, and Half-Price Books. It's a reasonably cheap sci-fi paperback with a groovy seventies cover, and seems to have drifted out of print. It's an interesting story, and a quick read, somewhat underdeveloped but a good book nonetheless. I'm new at this. Don't hurt me.

The Delikon are an advanced alien race who, many many years before this book begins, descended upon the Earth and, finding us too violent and too immature to roam the stars and contact other races, conquered us for our own good, sending most of humanity back into a weird pseudo-medievalism. Taking psuedo-humanoid forms that make them look wan, tall, and big-eyed (sort of like elves without the pointy ears), the Delikon seek to educate the primitive Earth people, and often select the best and brightest of us to be trained at remote facilities. And the book proper begins here, when Varina, a young (only 307 years old) Delikon, prepares to bring her students and friends Alta and Jason to the Sanctuary. It's a bittersweet event, as it reminds her of their inevitable transition into adulthood, and thus their mortality, whereas the Delikon are, by human standards, ageless. She spends some time with them outside the city, but on an innocent walk, the three fall afoul of a group of human rebels who are planning a revolution. They escape from the rebel camp, and must make a trek back to civilization and safety as a war breaks out around them.

THE DELIKON runs for 143 pages and moves at a very brisk pace, and could almost be considered a young adult novel (arbitrary as such classifications are.) And yet, the story is more complex than it appears. A big moral question mark hangs over the Delikon and their role as overlords of humanity (which has some parallel to Arthur C. Clarke's CHILDHOOD'S END); they're benevolent imperialists, and though such a concept has historically been shown to be a bit of an oxymoron, their rule of Earth is not portrayed as a fundamentally wrong or evil thing. At the same time, neither is the attempt by humanity to throw off their shackles. Instead, there's a certain inevitability to it; the ancient Delikon have taken the role of parents, and now the children wish to strike out on their own. The main characters don't have much time to ponder the ramifications of this, as they are caught in a struggle for survival, but we cut away to elder Delikon dealing with societal change with a certain resignation.

The setting is nicely established in broad strokes, much of the technology alien and strange and concealed by nature. It's a green world, reflecting the ecological focus of much seventies science fiction, but of course this pastoral serenity comes at the expense of mankind's freedom and progress. As the revolution flares, the Delikon retaliate with armies of horrid, insectoid drones. The characters' long journey back is suspenseful and vividly described, and though the human characters aren't given much depth, the inner conflict of Varina as she confronts the worst of both races is rather poignant. The ending is somewhat abrupt and inconclusive, though I suppose a measure of ambiguity as to just what the future holds was deliberate. (One weird thing about the writing; somehow, I inferred that a woman wrote this book, despite "H. M." being fairly gender neutral as names go. According to the little bio, the author is in fact female. This might mean something but for the fact that I had a 52% chance of being right.)

THE DELIKON is out of print, but fairly easy to find on Amazon and elsewhere, and for reasonable prices (my copy apparently cost me seventy-five cents). Hoover appears to have remained active in the field as late as ANOTHER HEAVEN, ANOTHER EARTH in 2002, and other books of hers have been reprinted in softcover as late as 2003. THE DELIKON shows a lot of talent and imagination, and is worth grabbing if you see it.

Grade: B+

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