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The Dragons of Springplace
Robert Reed
Golden Gryphon, 312 pages

Art: Bob Eggleton
The Dragons of Springplace
Robert Reed
Robert Reed was born, raised and currently is the only SWFA member living in Nebraska. He was the gold-prize winner in the L. Ron Hubbard Writers of the Future Contest in 1986 for his story "Mudpuppies" (under the pen-name Robert Touzalin). His first two novels, The Leeshore and The Hormone Jungle, appeared in 1987. These were followed by Black Milk (1990), Down the Bright Way (1991), The Remarkables (1992), Beyond the Veil of Stars (1994), An Exaltation of Larks (1995), and Beneath the Gated Sky (1997). He is also a writer of a great deal of short fiction, including the recent "Marrow," one of Locus's selections for the top 10 stories of 1997. His short fiction has twice been nominated for the Hugo Award. He has had numerous short stories published in Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine, The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction and other major magazines. Reed has also been working for several years on a science fiction thriller which he likens to "Jurassic Park meets Dances With Wolves."

ISFDB Bibliography
Locus Interview
SF Site Review : An Exaltation of Larks

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Georges T. Dodds

In "Guest of Honour," the 6th of the 11 stories in this collection, the author postulates a human being created through advanced genetics that incorporates the characteristics of several score quasi-immortal humans who sponsor her participation in a space exploration mission. Upon her return she is given a hero's welcome, then her brain is dissected and its store of experiences are implanted into every one of her sponsors, who, bored of their own endless lives, live vicariously through their periodic implants.

While Robert Reed has obvious escaped the terminal fate of his heroine, and claims LeGuin, Tiptree, Wolfe and Silverberg as influences, he appears to be an amalgam of several writers. The sense of nostalgia and wonder of Ray Bradbury, the fantastic weirdness of A. Merritt, the settings and characters reminiscent of Cordwainer Smith, and the alien ecologies and humour of Stanley Weinbaum, have been fused and remolded and modernized into Robert Reed. Many current science-fiction writers could do well to implant a bit of Mr Reed's brain into their own.

What first strikes one with these stories is that they thrive on atmosphere and character development and are not incident-driven pulp literature -- short term excitement quickly forgotten. Throughout the stories, characters evolve (some not so figuratively, e.g. "The Remoras") and overcome their moral and physical limitations, achieve insights into what it means to be human or alien and what these states of being have in common, and they come to understand the genius loci of their environments.

For example, the title story follows the evolution of a sociopathic young man who has escaped the strict genetic programming of his contemporaries and who, through a love for a younger woman which he won't allow himself to voice, even to himself, redeems himself by altruistically giving up his life to save her (and the world). Oh, yeah, and I forgot to mention he has this thing about killing huge dragon-like mutant lizards that live in a nuclear waste dump, with only a Bowie knife.

In "Waging Good" a young woman from a filthy rich moon colony takes the fall for a capital crime while her equally guilty friends get off scot-free. Her sentence is commuted to joining the Peace Corps on a now devastated Earth. She comes to empathize with the miserable survivors of germ and nuclear warfare and when her term is up and she returns home to seek revenge, she realizes that her now penniless friends are more worthy of pity then they are of revenge.

It is these sorts of stories that make Reed's characters more than just pieces of driftwood carried along by the current of events, but rather shapers of events themselves.

From a young boy's alien encounter in a Nebraska cornfield (in "To Church with Mr Multhiford"), an annoying know-it-all who hasn't got a life, and whom even an alien from Tau Ceti knows to avoid ("The Utility Man"), an alternate world where a long distance runner (something Mr Reed practices in real life) must escape from an alien bent on a duel steeped in millennia-old traditions ("Stride"), to a planet-sized Gormenghast-like space-arc serving as interstellar cruise ship for bored immortals in "The Remoras" and "Aeon's Child," Reed's images are rich in atmosphere. In the latter story, the war between rival Gaean lifeforms somewhere in the lost passages of the giant arc are reminiscent of the weird landscapes and combatants in A. Merritt's The Face in the Abyss. The common setting of these and other stories on this vast arc is somewhat reminiscent in tone if not in milieu to Cordwainer Smith's Instrumentality stories.

Reed is fascinated with the thought of what human beings with virtually endless lifespans are going to do with themselves. While John Wyndham showed us all the sociological implications of a human lifespan expanded to about 200 years in his "The Trouble with Lichen," Reed takes this one step further, creating quasi-immortals. Some he has living vicariously off the experiences of prefabricated humans which only serve as a data acquisition system for them ("Guest of Honour"), some outsiders, the Remoras, endlessly recreate their mutation ravaged organs to adapt to new conditions, while others wile away the millennia on extended cruises.

Reed's sense of nostalgia is most apparent in the last story in the book, "The Shape of Everything," where an aging astronomer looks back on his youth and how it all ties into the grand scheme of things. But the same Bradburyesque mood pervades not only "To Church with Mr Multhiford" and "Decency" set in the American Midwest, and "Stride" set in small town America, but also his pieces set it the far future. In "Waging Good" the character, though living far, far in the future, looks back on the friends and pranks of her youth in much the same manner.

If you are looking for something along the lines of an acute dose of easy-reading science fiction action in the E.E. "Doc" Smith or Edgar Rice Burroughs mode, Robert Reed is definitely not for you. However, if you are looking for rich and varied scenarios with interesting and well developed characters which require some investment on your part, this is the place to go.

Copyright © 1999 Georges T. Dodds

Georges Dodds is a research scientist in vegetable crop physiology, who for close to 25 years has read and collected close to 2000 titles of predominantly pre-1950 science-fiction and fantasy, both in English and French. He writes columns on early imaginative literature for WARP, the newsletter/fanzine of the Montreal Science Fiction and Fantasy Association.

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