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The Last Hawk
Catherine Asaro
Tor Books, 448 pages

The Last Hawk
Catherine Asaro
Catherine Asaro is a physicist at Molecudyne Research. She earned her PhD in chemical physics from Harvard, and a BS from UCLA. She also writes science fiction, a blend of hard SF with space adventure. Her debut novel, Primary Inversion, is in its second printing, Catch the Lightning won the 1997 Sapphire Award, and The Last Hawk is a Nebula nominee along with her novella, "Aurora In Four Voices" (Analog, Dec 98). The books are stand-alone novels, but take place in the same universe. Her husband, John Cannizzo, is the proverbial NASA rocket scientist, and an excellent resource for a writer of romantic space adventure!

Catherine Asaro Website
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: The Veiled Web
SF Site Review: The Quantum Rose
SF Site Review: The Radiant Seas
Excerpt: Primary Inversion
Excerpt: Catch the Lightning
Excerpt: The Last Hawk

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Donna McMahon

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In the first chapter of The Last Hawk, Prince Kelricson (brother of the ruler of the Skolian Empire) crashes his crippled spacefighter on an obscure planet named Coba. Seriously wounded, Kelric is hoping to send an SOS so he can be rescued, but the Cobans who find him have other ideas. Thanks to a bureaucratic oversight, Coba has escaped Imperial occupation and the Cobans are happy that way. If they let Kelric return to the Empire, he will take news with him that will forever end Coba's political and cultural autonomy.

The Cobans consider letting Kelric die, but they take him prisoner instead, and this novel is the story of his eighteen years on Coba, where his presence eventually upsets the fragile political balance of the planet.

This is an excellent set-up for a space opera, and I initially enjoyed the book despite its romance novel style. One of the best features is Catherine Asaro's clever and convincing depiction of Kelric's biomechanical enhancements. Kelric has an internal biomed computer which monitors his condition and directs nanomeds to repair damage. On Kelric's neurally relayed orders, the computer can also trigger hydraulic and other systems to respond to emergencies with super fast reflexes and heightened strength. However, Kelric's system is damaged and its erratic behaviour is entirely familiar to those of us who have screamed with frustration at an "illegal operation" message.

On the down side, Coba's female-dominated society is a lumbering parody of our own culture, complete with speeches about how men are the "weaker sex" and "hysterical" by nature. It's both unoriginal and unamusing, and Asaro's sharp handling of biotech only serves to highlight the fact that she made no serious attempt to address the biological and economic reasons behind sex roles. Also unconvincing was "quis," a complex dice game with which Cobans fight political and economic battles rather than having real wars. It's an interesting idea, but Asaro's sketchy outline of how the game works simply doesn't have enough depth or complexity to make a reader believe it.

More seriously, as the novel stretched on, leaping over years of time, I found Kelric's character stretching thin. This aggressive biotech superman who stages a spectacular escape attempt early in the novel, abruptly calms down and takes meekly to life in a male harem. And his first reluctant acceptance of a forced marriage may have been credible, but by the fourth arranged marriage to a powerful woman (who just happens to be beautiful) it was ridiculous. If Asaro had written a woman character who learned to love her succession of husband/buyers, she would have offended many readers.

I might have loved this novel at age 15 or 16, but for an adult reader it's strictly a leave-your-brain-at-the-door kind of book, mostly for a female audience. Nonetheless, Asaro is a talented writer and I'd like to see what she could do with straight SF instead of soap.

Copyright © 2002 Donna McMahon

Donna McMahon discovered science fiction in high school and fandom in 1977, and never recovered. Dance of Knives, her first novel, was published by Tor in May, 2001, and her book reviews won an Aurora Award the same month. She likes to review books first as a reader (Was this a Good Read? Did I get my money's worth?) and second as a writer (What makes this book succeed/fail as a genre novel?). You can visit her website at http://www.donna-mcmahon.com/.


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