METAL OF NIGHT

by Mark W. Tiedemann

Meisha Merlin

1-89206-565-7

372pp/$16.00/June 2002

Metal of Night
Cover by Ed Cox

Reviewed by Steven H Silver


Mark Tiedemannís Metal of Night opens with a major space battle, but quickly settles down into a story of refugees and rebels, perhaps.  Nothing in Metal of Night is as clear cut as Tiedemann initially posits, and the reader canít be sure of where any of the characters stand or even what the situation is.  He is careful about only revealing a certain amount, but even that, the reader quickly learns, should be read with suspicion.

The novel follows Pan Humana Armada wing commanders Cira Kalinge and Alexan Cambion as they must individually find their way across the hostile planet on which they landed.  In addition, Tiedemann looks at the world through the eyes of the rebellionís possible leader and his son, Maxwell and Nicolan, who are Alexanís father and brother as well, maybe.  Tory Shirabe, a journalist who is seeking truth, a rare commodity in Tiedemannís world, rounds out the cast of characters.

Although Tiedemann continuously shifts point of view in the novel, from Cira to Alexan to Tory to Nicolan, he does so with a facility which makes it easy to follow the story.  Furthermore, while multiple viewpoints frequently make the situation more clear, Tiedemann uses the technique in a manner which only serves to heighten the confusion he is purposefully sowing.

Tiedemann plays with the readerís expectations, creating a situation and then completely changing the fundamentals on which it is based a few pages later.  He has no problem rearranging the readerís suppositions on characters, organizations, history, or anything else he has presented in the novel.  This makes Metal of Night an intriguing and Byzantine novel.

Each of the characters in Metal of Night share an Heinleinian competence with each other.  This increases the satisfaction of the novel because when they act in opposition to each other, as often happens, all the characters act with intelligence.  Furthermore, each has a multitude of motives for their actions which helps flesh them out.  In his introduction to the novel, Jack McDevitt laments the two-dimensionality of too many space opera villains, but he is correct in stating that Tiedemannís villains do not suffer from that problem.  Even the psychopath McDevitt mentions is given his complexities, which are many given his initial state as a self-declared quadruple agent.

Like the personal entanglements, the political situation Tiedemann has created appears reasonably simple when it is first laid out, but acquired increasing levels of complexity as the real circumstances are revealed.   In addition to the interstellar and interspecies politics, Tiedemann is more than happy to throw in a healthy measure of local politics on the planet Finders. 

The complexity of Tiedemannís situation is such that the reader does not continue to turn the pages in order to find out what will happen, but rather in hopes of finding an explanation for what has happened.  The novel is divided into two parts, with the first half focusing on the initial invasion of Finders by the Armada and the second half detailing the aftermath.  Characters are recovering from wounds or trying to figure out what to do with their lives after they have become uprooted from their understanding of the world.

Despite all the complexities of plot and character, Tiedemann manages to weave his story without sowing confusion among his readers.  Information is revealed at a pace which allows the reader to process it and form a more complete picture of what the situation may actually be, while acknowledging that what the situation is may be based on point of view.  Even if Tiedemann doesnít provide all the answers in the end, he provides enough to sate the readerís curiosity while still leaving the reader wanting to follow possible future events in this multifaceted universe

Metal of Night is a fast-paced story with heroes and villains as flexible as the situation in which they find themselves.  While nobody, not even the viewpoint characters, are what they seem, the slow revelation of their real personalities and objectives keeps the readerís interest as Tiedemann continues to peel back layers until he reveals the core of the story.

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