Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Why Now and Not Then?

When a writer reaches a certain level of renown, and then suddenly a book touted as his "previously unpublished first novel," is finally published, you have to wonder, what happened? Is this first novel actually no good, but now that we know the writer is good, we'll read it anyway? Or is it simply that the publishing industry was too lame, greedy, or snotty to recognize decent work when they saw it the first time?

Greg Keyes' Footsteps in the Sky is one of those works, a suddenly-first-time-in-print-first-novel. Having now read it, my curiosity is further piqued. While the writing is at times disjointed, indicative of a first attempt, the story holds its own and the book is well worth reading.

The Fifth World is a planet far from Earth settled by a group of idealists, many of Native American descent, intent on reviving the Hopi culture and religion. The settlers inhabit the planet as part of a larger terra-forming effort that has begun on a handful of planets in the galaxy. The trouble is, there is evidence that these planets have already been partially terra-formed (or, rather, the alien equivalent) by another space-faring species. When the aliens return and find their project alterred, tensions erupt between factions among the pseudo-Hopi settlers and the institutions that rule them from a distance.

SandGreyGirl, a young Hopi settler and the operator of an aircraft called a Dragonfly that she half pilots and half embodies, is investigating the circumstances around her mother's untimely death when she is inadvertently drawn into this interplanetary drama. Sand becomes the protector of an alien ambassador who is both fascinated and befuddled by humanity as the two of them are pursued and threatened by multiple interested parties.

Hopi religion, mythology and iconography play a large role in the novel, especially the concept of Kachina. Kachina are spirits of varying shape and disposition, who bring aid or punishment to Hopi individuals. Hopi children are brought up to believe Kachina are real. For Hopi adults the Kachina continue to exert a powerful affect. Planetary and interplanetary rulers use the imagery and threat of Kachina to frighten and manipulate the settlers.

But while the Kachina may be specific to the Hopi, the power of religious iconography is not. Nearly all the characters, even the alien representatives, are deeply affected by their own religious backgrounds and the powerful images that accompany them, whether they want to be or not.

Despite all the philosophy behind it, the novel is fast-paced includes some gratuitous sci-fi sex scenes and fair amount of violence. In other words, it's quality summer reading.

The publisher provided me with a time-limited eBook galley for the purpose of this review.

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