2021-09-26 20:12:01 UTC
By way of being a review of _Legion_ by Charles L. Grant, book three of the Parric family series, but I noticed this book as an example of unscientific methods I use to decide whether or not to buy a book; mostly how I spend a lot of time nibbling around the edges of a book instead of just diving in, so thread drift and metaphor mixing are baked into the first post.
Saw the author's name on the spine. I have a good reaction to it, but I can't say from where. If pressed, I would have guessed in The Magazine
of Fantasy & Science Fiction in the early '80s, which led me to their The Best from... series stretching back into the '50s, where he had a story about a man cutting down a tree on an alien planet and possibly meeting the "spirit" of the tree. I tried to check him on ISFDB, but -I think I've said this before- politeness suggests I try to be discreet about web surfing in a brick-and-mortar store.
Meanwhile, I had the book at hand. The front and back cover blurbs suggest the winding-down of our civilization: a decreasing population being supplemented by androids -- well, once we improve the androids and allay peoples' fear of them. The setting, Town Central, was the village where the android development took place... until came something called the Plaguewind, and things go downhill from there. Perhaps more melancholy than actually depressing; a quote pulled onto the flyleaf mentions a starship, the Alpha, launched back when things were better, its return waited for.
But the real hook was the Author's Note that the Parric stories are part of a larger Future History, with a list of the stories in it marked as to whether they deal directly with the Parrics or not. A novel and two novelettes are subsumed as 50 to 80 years before the first Parric novel, say two generations before that became a name to be reckoned with. Then the three Parric novels and one short story. Surrounding them, following them, and outnumbering them, are tales noted as "not yet written." Not written, but apparently planned as to their place in the 300 years covered, their size, whether novel, novelette, or short story, and even title. Surreptitious glances at my phone did not point to anywhere that the shorter works were published that I would have read them, indeed, did not show any of the works not yet published as of 1979.
Well, how was the book? It's written in a style I'm going to call "poetic." Mostly, that means in a way I don't expect to read it, which trips me up every now and then.
The setting is basically a double future: the future, and then its post-war wreck. It *was* a world of self-sufficient cityplexes, with less communal people in villages in between, such as the above mentioned android project, and even less sociable people wandering the land between villages; a world in gradual but definite decline, then, apparently, a pushbutton war with biological weapons; the plague killed until there wasn't enough population to support it, with an unexpected side effect of interacting with the "biosheath" of the androids, making them murderous. This novel is some fifty years later. While the citiplexes had become mausoleums, it seems to have been a fairly cozy apocalypse in the villages. They were also mostly self-sufficient, and Town Central has even kept most of its technology, if not advancing it. This is when I wish I was writing this closer to the time I read it, I'd know where to dig out the parts that didn't make sense but I let slide hoping to be filled in later. (I reread the beginning, a description of Town Central details about how it's hidden in a valley, and trees around every house blend it in to nature; it stops short of the word "camouflage," which probably kept me from wondering how hidden was meant by "hidden," and how they would have hidden the farm fields (or, I don't know, algae ponds?) or the streams of traffic in and out. Oh, also they have a force field around it. I'm guessing that's not a Town Central exclusive, like the androids. It keeps people and the Rouge murderous androids out, but it doesn't say whether it was a full dome against the Plaguewinds.) A decade ago the Parric brothers of this generation -Mathew and Orion, but I don't expect this review to get to the level of needing their names- had reopened the citiplex of Philayork, or at least gotten the Hive Center working again. Orion stayed, but Mathew went back to Town Central, somewhere between there and Washmond, continuing the reuniting of the villages in the area. It's explicitly said this reuniting doesn't involve mutual assistance, or even trade, just communication. Town Central wants to convince them of the utility of a central government (for what?), and also that androids are safe (are they? This was written in 1979, but I'd like to think that even before I knew of security patches that need security patches I would have been asking, "Are they really?") Another force is gathering towns to its side. What this means is unknown, the only thing required of the towns is they stop talking to Town Central. The story is about Parric gathering a Fellowship to go out and take care of it. These include a Hunter (wanderers between the villages have become good at living off the land), and um... at least three other Town people: a woman, a man of considerably more than average height, and a man of considerably less than average height; and one of the androids.
So, a trek through the woods without a lot of sci-fi action: they didn't take cars or hovercats for fear of the enemy tracking them, no radio communication for the same reason. There are beam guns as well as projectile ones, but AFAIR it's just words, there's no differentiation. The android is verly much an afterthought in this book, for all they are mentioned on the cover. It's a "he" not an "it," with a name (Will Dix) and a character, just the character we learn the least about. Well, Parric is the point-of-view, and I suppose the two would have hashed out what Will thinks of all this in conversation long ago. There are two thoughts new-to-me. One is that the distinct lack of people is felt, and the idea of murder has become especially anathema. The second is a gizmo: first aid bandages, gauze, and wraps hold patches of medicine to be absorbed through the skin. Oddly, I'm thinking of these in terms of their affect for the fiction; the first as our attitude to violence in our daily lives, as opposed to when we are reading fiction, while the second provides a handy excuse to ignore the aftereffects of violence as quickly as any adventure fiction. Maybe I'm just taking a bad attitude to the book, now.
Bottom line, will I buy the other books? From the timeline, I guess the second book is the revival of one of the citiplexes, and the first is the development of the androids and the launch of a starship before everything goes horribly wrong. I have hope the first book has the mood I was expecting way back in my third paragraph above. I won't specifically look for them, and if I see them, I'll go through the same dance as above. Meanwhile, the two non-Parric stories set in the century prior are in the same collection (the Parric short story has never been collected) along with what is probably more of the Grant I like.
 At home, when I could study ISFDB, I eventually found I am mixing him up with Robert F. Young. I can probably blame the fact that they both had stories in the second Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction in my subscription, roughly alternating appearances thereafter. The editor's introductions to the stories back then included a pointer back to the author's previous appearance, if there was one, so they were leapfrogging and looking back by turns.
 Two novels this 1979 book gives a publication date of 1980 also do not appear. Again, a later reading of Grant's bibliography, I hypothesise this sequence: After his SF novels in 1976, '77, '78, and '79, one might guess they did not set the world on fire, and that seems to be the end of the line. Into the '80s he got more encouragement from the horror side of things, including editing an anthology series, one of which I read from a friend, so also a source of the familiarity of the name.