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A Game of Perfection
Élisabeth Vonarburg
Edge, 339 pages

A Game of Perfection
Élisabeth Vonarburg
Élisabeth Vonarburg was born in France in 1947. She has taught French Literature and Creative Writing on and off at various universities in Quebec since 1973 and does SF translations from English to French. She has been a literary editor for the SF & F Quebecois magazine Solaris from 1979 to 1990 and is now a full-time writer.

ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: Dreams of the Sea
SF Site Review: Dreams of the Sea

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Donna McMahon

A Game of Perfection is the sequel to Élisabeth Vonarburg's Dreams of the Sea (also published by Tesseract/Edge), and the second in her Tyranaėl trilogy.

In Dreams of the Sea, an accident stranded human colonists on a planet they named Virginia, and the few survivors had to struggle to live until the next colony ship arrived. A Game of Perfection opens much later, after the active colonization of Virginia is over and millions of humans have been living on the planet all their lives.

But they still have not solved the mystery of what happened to the alien race that inhabited the planet centuries before and then suddenly disappeared, leaving all their cities intact as if everybody had just stood up and walked away. The government, anxious to maintain tight control and uncomfortable with mystery, discourages speculation about aliens. Through a "scientific" agency called CEXSAR, they are more interested in investigating a troubling new phenomenon -- humans who are being born with telepathic skills.

Simon knows all about this because he was the first powerful telepath. Following a strange encounter with an alien artifact, he found himself possessed of the ability to sense normal people's thoughts -- and even manipulate them. He has spent his unnaturally long life searching for other telepaths and trying to keep their existence a secret from 'normals' who want to eradicate them. Every generation there are more telepathic mutations, but when will it be safe for them to come out of hiding?

Although the setting is the same as in Dreams of the Sea, and at least one character reappears, this novel is considerably more accessible to the average genre reader than its predecessor. There are still many characters to keep track of and Vonarburg is inordinately fond long internal musings and cryptic flashbacks, however Simon's compelling, lonely journey forms a focal point for the book, keeping the story knitted together and the reader engaged.

Vonarburg's plot is very reminiscent of Van Vogt's Slan, although greatly more sophisticated in its execution. And the complex, atmospheric setting adds a great deal of texture. The human story is always overshadowed by the mysterious influence of a vanished alien race on a planet that is not Earth and does not welcome human beings.

Still, Vonarburg's books are not for the hard SF enthusiast. She largely ignores scientific or technological details of her universe in favour of focusing on broad philosophical and ethical questions about what it means to be human. And her writing, which is sedate and rich in imagery, is likely to appeal to the more literary reader.

A Game of Perfection was translated from the original French by Vonarburg and Howard Scott, and the Edge edition is complemented by a lovely, atmospheric cover by David Willicome.

Copyright © 2006 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

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