oing out of memory on this one – see, I’m hacking my way through Rothfuss’s The Wise Man’s Fears (1200 pages!) so that’s like four books. And with his other book, I’ve simply burned off my book review backlog. So with that in mind, I’m doing this one out of my head – after all, I’ve shelves of books. Certainly I can remember a story or two.
And I can. And the one that pops to mind is The Real Story by Stephen Donaldson (who you might remember me reviewing for his wonderful book, Lord Foul’s Bane). Here, The Real Story starts with what seems a usual space opera scene – the horrible pirate Angus Thermopylae is in a bar with his meaty hands gripping his seeming captive, the beautiful Morn Hyland. She’s an ex-cop, seemingly captured off the destroyed UMCP Starmaster. Why is she with him? What hold does he have over her? And suddenly, in walks Nick Succorso of the Captain’s Fancy, a dashing pirate captain. Morn, seemingly seeing a potential rescurer, assists Nick in framing Angus and off they go together. What a story.
You might have noticed the number of times I used “seemingly” in the last paragraph. Because what you see isn’t what’s entirely true. Oh yes, we have the monster, the damsel, and the hero. But as time and story proceed, we see more of what took place before, and suddenly the roles begin to shift as the characters change parts. From a writers viewpoint, the idea is clever (and a damn good exercise in writing). From a reader’s viewpoint, it’s a great twisting tale.
The thing is, The Real Story is little more than a novella, yet is actually the first part of The Gap Cycle (The Gap into Conflict). And where damsel becomes hero, monster becomes damsel, and hero into monster, the roles shift again and again. Did you have a favorite character? Maybe not after the next fifty pages. Keep reading and face the shock and story as the tale rolls over and over again.
Two things of note this story carried that no other science fiction story did – the first was just what heavy gee would be like over long hours and days. In fact, that figured into my game Solar Trader, where burning your drive pins you into your seat for the day, mentally taxes you and physically strains your ship. This isn’t James T. Kirk sprawled in his captain’s chair, drinking coffee as the Enterprise pushed up to warp 6. This is light-the-wick-and-hold-on, the teeth-rattling, eyeball-pressing drive that Saturn rockets deliver.
The second thing the story magnificently carried with the idea of how endlessly… endless space is. While chased by baddies, Succorso takes Captain’s Fancy way outside the galaxy, way, way out. Never in all my space opera readings have I found the emptiness of space so exquisitely detailed as that moment. Donaldson can sure carry a scene.
Anyway, four bravos for the story, and the series that follows it. It’s worth it if you want your space operas unpredictable and your understanding of stories turned on end. Have a look!