CM . . .
. Volume XVI Number 2. . . .September 11, 2009
Far Arena. (Okal Rel Saga, Part Five).
Calgary, AB: Edge Science Fiction and Fantasy Publishing, 2009.
304 pp., pbk., $20.95.
Grades 8 and up / Ages 13 and up.
Review by Ronald Hore.
"You realize," Ranar said in an aloof tone, as he put the buckle down, "that you have just characterized same-sex relationships as a wart?"
Erien folded a leg beneath him and sat down on the floor, back against the door. He reached half-consciously to rub the turquoise-inlaid hilt of the boot-knife, given to him by Di Mon the last time he had seen him. "Ranar," he said, "I apologize if I've given offense. My frames of reference lately have become so many that I'm losing track." He rubbed his face. "You and Evert are my parents; there's nothing in your relationship that troubles or offends me. But from the Gelack frame of reference, same-sex relationships are a wart, the same as Sword Law is a wart from the Reetion frame of reference. You've made sure Gelacks cannot hide what they are. Why are you hiding what you are? You didn't shrink from it while you were on Gelion, when it was far more dangerous to you."
"No," Ranar conceded. He rubbed his temples. "You're right, of course."
In a far future universe, where habitat suitable for life is rare, several culturally different humanoid empires exist. Volume five of a 10 book series jumps right into the middle of the complicated tale without any preamble, and as a result, if you have not been following the series, it takes a few pages to get into the flow of the story.
The book follows three main characters: Erien, the youth newly named Heir Gelion, his half-brother Amel, the very troubled Courtesan Prince, and the stern Liege Nersal, Horth. The three become involved in the taking of a space station back from a group of malcontents to try and avoid the use of weapons that would make space flight even more dangerous. This leads to friction with the Reetion Confederacy, a society of commoners who are governed and constantly watched by their Artificial Intelligences (AIs). The next step is for Erien to proceed to visit the Reetions with the purpose of opening negotiations to arrange for an exchange of ambassadors.
The story at this point revolves around the efforts by the Reetions to unlock the secrets in Amel's tortured mind. Damaged by a Reetion brain probe earlier in his life, Amel is unwilling to take this too far, while the Reetions want to conduct a judicial investigation into the events regarding the taking of the space station and offer Amel asylum. All of this activity is supervised by their AIs. Erien tries to balance diplomacy, and his concern for what state secrets Amel might reveal under probing, with the need to try and keep the volatile Hoth from starting a full-fledged war.
Far Arena is not your standard Space Opera, with large explosions on every page and ray guns blazing in all directions. The well-written story is character-driven and investigates the social problems that can arise. There are larger than life characters, but they are humanized by having to deal with their own personal problems as well as the larger affairs of their empires.
Full of references to events described in previous books in the series, and unfamiliar terms, phrases, and titles, this volume consists of 304 pages broken into 24 four chapters. It would appeal to the reader of science fiction or fantasy who is interested in the interplay between varied individuals in social situations unfamiliar both to the characters and the reader. If you are a fan of the series, Far Arena advances the complex plot another step.
Ronald Hore, involved with writer's groups for several years, retired from the business world in Winnipeg, MB.
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