Brightness Falls from the Air by James Tiptree Jr.
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Brightness Falls From the Air by James Tiptree Jr.(Alice Bradley Sheldon)
I can honestly say I've read few of James Tiptree and that is mostly because she was mostly writing short stories and though I've read a few short stories now and then I prefer novels. She has two of those to her name and this one was in e-book format and after recently reading one of her short stories I felt compelled to read a novel.
Though the novel starts with a paragraph that sounds quite descriptive it is misleading in that it seems quite innocuous and this reader felt he had to dig down further to find a reason to continue. But the entire first paragraph actually sets up a bit of the conflict and one of the main plot points in a rather sneaky way.
Farther down though we are introduced to the three custodians of Damiem and its inhabitants the Dameii who appear to be fairy like creatures with thin frail wings. The planet is protected like some large preserve and the three humans, along with a ship in space, protect the Dameii who were once abused by human drug runners.
The three humans, Cory Estreel, her mate Kipruget Korso and their friend Doctor Balthasar Baramji ap Bye— Baram or Bram, the Senior Xenopathologist, all have a bit of a past that will unfold to the reader as the story moves forward; but to begin with we find the present situation. Cory and Kip are mated and the Doctor has long since lost his mate. Somewhere along the line after his time of mourning we find he may have made a pass at Cory who, being faithful to Kip and understanding other difficulties that could arise from any relationship, resisted his attempts. In all, it seems that it may have cemented the relationship between all three.
As the story opens they have visitors arriving on planet, who are there to observe the effects of a nova upon the space around Damiem--the recently nova star is mysteriously labeled as the Murdered Star. Along with the expected visitors they have a few more because of some mix-up or malfunction of the cold storage of passengers. All the passengers aboard the ship were brought out of storage by 'accident'. The alien race that run the Federation line, the Moom, have a tight schedule and don't or won't allow the time to sort the mess out so they unload all the passengers plus the one human crew who was in charge of them. The four extra people are going to have to await the next flight that comes to take them to their planned destination.
This poses a problem because everyone who visits Damiem must be fully checked out before arrival because of the circumstances behind the reason the Dameii are being protected. The quickest explanation being that the Dameii excrete a substance that can be used as a drug in humans to cause euphoria and the substance seems to be stronger when extracted from the Dameii while they are under stress and possibly being tortured.[Which is what the drug lords had been doing before the Federation located the planet and put a stop to it all.] The bottom line here and now is that there are four undocumented people on the world because of an error that at best seems suspicious and though they could be what they appear, they also could be something much worse.
There are a lot of interesting notions concerning the culture and physiology of the Dameii and the waves of force coming from the nova that certainly meet the test of time and internally are all handled quite well. But what I like particularly are the characters in the story. They all are equitably developed and the main characters are quite complex. If I had any qualms it was that the complexity of many of the situations along with the characters and coupled with the time disruptive effect of the nova often caused me to lose track of where all the characters were at and I often had to backtrack.[That could just be me having problems.]
The story itself has a level of tragic nature to it that possibly might be true to the nature of Alice Sheldon's writing. The reader can see several potential consequences adding up and piling one upon the other. Though it is possible for some of these to be avoided it is not going to be possible for all of them to be averted. There will be consequences and so far in my reading of her work there usually are unavoidable consequences.
There's an element of gritty darkness to the story that might make some people uncomfortable but all those elements are necessary to move the story along.
My only regret is that within her career she seems to have only written two novels and whole slew of short stories. I know I'd love to read any novel she wrote.
This novel stands as a great work for all SF and SFF fans alike and should hold up for quite a while as a classic.
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