Tuesday, June 1, 2010

[Review] Winter Song by Colin Harvey

This is the story about Karl Allman surviving reentry on Isheimur after his ship is destroyed and how he meets the abandoned colony there, heal some broken bones, hikes across the wilderness, and other twists and turns. Read my review below.

Title: Winter Song

Author: Colin Harvey
Genre: Science Fiction
Cover art: Chris Moore
Publisher: Angry Robot 2009
Paperback: 432 pages
Order by: Amazon US | UK | B&N | sfbok

Reviewer: Ove Jansson
Copy: Bought myself
[blurb]The planet had fallen off the map. When Karl Altman's spaceship crashed, he had only one question: "HOW THE HELL DO I GET OUT OF HERE?" Rock-hard sci-fi adventure. No-one here gets out alive. When his spaceship crashes on an unknown and forgotten planet, scientist Karl Altman discovers himself hunted by an ancient race. The descendants of a Viking race have reverted to a savage culture of sacrifice, pillage and violence. When Karl falls in love with an outcast girl, he has only one goal: escape. But escape is a distant dream on this nightmare planet.
FILE UNDER: Science Fiction [Starship Crash / Abandoned Colonists / Alien Slaughter / Hell Planet]
The book is dedicated to Kate his wife.

There is an 18 pages excerpt from Colin's next book Damage Time at the end of the book.

The Author
This is the first Novel I read by Colin Harvey. He lives in Bristol in the south-west of England with his wife Kate and spaniel Alice. His first fiction was published in 2001, since when he has written novels, short stories and reviews, edited anthologies and judged the Speculative Literature Foundation's annual Gulliver Travel Research Grant for five years. Colin's reviews appear regularly at Strange Horizons and he is the feature writer for speculative fiction at Suite101.

World Building
The universe Karl comes from is a technologically advanced one where singularity has happened, Aye as he calls them ponder their own unfathomably agendas, Traditionalists battle Formers or Ayes. That part of the story also makes me curious on that part of the world; I would like to read more about it.

The scene for this book is Isheimur a partially terraformed planet colonized by earth standard humans of Icelandic descent. The colonists still expect the Formers that started the terraforming to return one day. But they went broke during the wars that made them leave in the first place. Colin paints an intriguing culture surviving on the last remnants of technology the Formers left behind, socially degraded to Viking levels with clans and chieftains. For survival women have been degraded to birthing factories.

There is quite much world building in Winter Song but it never feels disturbing for the narrative. Colin weave it in in the conversations and story telling in a delightful way.

One protagonist is Karl Allman a starship pilot taking a shortcut on his way home when his sentient ship is ambushed by some unfriendly Traditionals. In the last moment when he ejects from the ship it downloads itself in the nearest storage it can find, Karl's brain. Protected by some really spiffy nano-gel he/the ship falls out of orbit and on to a mountainside down below.

Where he is found by clan leader Ragnar with broken bones and in a miserable way. Ragnars sees an opportunity to add another potentially strong working hand to the clan so he orders Bera to nurture him back to health.

The second protagonist is Bera Sigurdsdottir disgraced unmarried mother to a dead born child she never named the father for. She lives on sufferance with the clan since her parents died and there is a reason she keeps the father of her child secret.

Karl starts out as a raving lunatic, driven by urges from his nanotech he eats everything he can get his hands on including grass and dirt. In his scrambled head the ships sentient mind tries to make sense out of his new flesh and meat dwellings; in fact he is the first to emerge from craziness and to communicate with Bera. Ragnar names him Loki and when he comes too and tell them his name, Bera continues to call the ship for Loki as they continue to switch places.

Karl was on his way home to his pregnant poly-marriage wife who is expecting in a few weeks. So he is motivated to get home and leave. Bera helps him find information on the net that might help him but it will mean a long journey.

Their main antagonist is Ragnar the head of the clan, he doesn't want them to leave and when they do he he sets out to capture or kill them.

But that's not enough, the world hides dragons and trolls and other mythical beasts from Icelandic myths and they have to pass through their land to get to their objective. As they do Karl starts to suspect the truth ...

This is a very character driven story. Colin makes the Icelandic heritage and myths in the Isheimur culture come to life and intrigue. The invasive closeness of the clan during the long winters comes across as shackles about to imprison our protagonists.

Karl is not a superman, he comes across as an ordinary man of his time who only wants to survive and get back home.

I am a character guy and here I am happy. The characters are interesting and beautiful even if their culture is crude. Some are not so nice and might be driven by their errors but they all make sense and add their part to the story.

I am also weak for a little romance but don't expect head over heels true love from the first page. There are some issues...

My view
Winter Song is close to space opera with the crashed hero on a primitive planet where he finds love and saves the day theme, but it is so much more, real life like characters, intriguing cultural setting, aliens and some strong moral questions. This is just so much fun to read, you should too.

Rating 8/10

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