Michael P. Kube-McDowell:Exile

Michael P. Kube-McDowell is a very much overlooked author of hard SF. I admit that I'm saying this only on the strength of two books--this one and his last, The Quiet Pools--and one novelette, "Slac //", but I feel confident the rest of his work will hold up. (And I'm not just saying this because I know him from Fidonet. Really.)

It's perhaps unfortunate that I read this book so close to Orson Scott Card's The Memory of Earth, because the cultures share some nontrivial similarities, mostly having to do with women being able to own property and men not.

It takes a bit of time into the book before we find out more about the history of the colony(and before the main character discovers his world to be a colony), so I won't spoil much of it here. Civilization on the planet is confined to a single city--and indeed, most of the inhabitants believe that city, and the river that flows through it, to be all that really exists, and certainly all that is habitable. Exile is considered worse than death.

The book is divided into two threads, the 'present'(done in first person) and the 'past', done in third person. In the latter, one man, Kedar Nan, has stumbled across early records from the era of colonization, and he is running a semi-underground school to discuss and disseminate this information. The main character, Meer Fas, runs across him by chance, and gets absorbed into this circle, although he is always somewhat of an outsider. The school is galvanized by the arrival of a starship, its attempts to communicate with the city, and its eventual silencing. They are arrested(except for Meer, who escapes fortuitously)and sentenced to death or exile. Meer himself, drafted into 'jury duty', passes a sentence of exile on Kedar, rather than have Kedar's own son forced to kill his father.

In the 'present', Meer received a message from a colony of exiles living outside the city, that Kedar Nan is dead and has requested Meer return his body to the city for burial. After some deliberation, Meer goes, to find Kedar Nan not dead after all, but very close to death. He discovers that the world outside the city is not dead after all, although the sun's radiation is less than healthy for extended exposure.

He returns with Kedar Nan, who dies near the city. At this point, Meer is suddenly inspired to carry on Kedar Nan's fight against the oppressors who rule the city. He rallies the exiles, sneaks into the city, gathers his allies, and takes over. Yes, the ending is a bit rushed. It takes the last three chapters, after Kedar Nan's death, which is somewhat of a shock after the leisurely pace through the rest of the book--and that's with two chapters of present to one of past. I surmise that Kube-McDowell was trying to put more emphasis on the spiritual journey of Meer than the physical plot, but I think he could have struck a better balance.

Apart from that, it's a great book. I highly recommend it, and Kube-McDowell's other work.

%A Kube-McDowell, Michael P.
%T Exile
%I Ace
%C New York
%D May 1992
%G ISBN 0-441-22212-9
%P 289 pp.
%O Paperback, US$4.99, Can$5.99

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The Den of Ubiquity / Aaron V. Humphrey / alfvaen@gmail.com