by Terry Dowling
Review by Jim Mann
Take three parts Jack Vance. Mix with parts of Cordwainer Smith, Gene Wolfe, Robert Silverberg, and a few others. The result it Wormwood by Terry Dowling. There doesn't seem to be an American edition of Wormwood. My copy is an Australian edition I picked up at a con a while back. It's a shame, and it's hard to understand. I hope this will change because I enjoyed Wormwood quite a bit and would like to see more of his work.
Wormwood is set in a future in which the Earth is being ruled by aliens. In the early 21st century, and alien race called the Nobodoi dropped a fragment of a neutron star on earth, changing the earth and starting the conquest. But we never really see the Nobodoi. They depart, leaving behind a number of other alien races to complete the conquest and govern the earth. The principal races are the three bridge racesthe Hoproi, the Darzie, and the Mattaand the Amazi. These races interact with the humans and with the dozen or so other races now on earth. Some of these races seem to rule feudal kingdoms of sorts, others to interact with humans in other ways. The Hoproi, who are masters and in their ways connoisseurs of war, and who have elaborate war gardens, are also genial and seem to like interacting with humans. Other races are mysterious and stay in the background. Humans don't even know the motivations of the bridge races, let alone the Nobodoi. It all results in a magical, fantastic future.
The world is a strange mix of races and technology. Much of the technology has the flavor of something out of Vance or Wolfe, and the strange customs of some of the races are definitely Vancian. One story, for example, features a human thief's interaction with the Matta. The Matta build elaborate houses, complete with mazes, one way walls, booby traps, and doors that are tied to the life cycle and heart beat of the Matta. Yet, when they detect thieves in their houses, they must just watch their defenses work. If the thief makes it to the center and to the Matta there, his is allowed to steal what he came for and leave. The thief in the story is the only thief ever to make it through a dozen times, and he is respected by the Matta (who of course also improve their defenses in the hopes of catching and killing him).
The world is filled with wonders. Races who keep part of their essencetheir hearts of if you willexternal to themselves. Great transportation vehicles that seem to move aimlessly across the planet but stop occasionally, allowing someone to enter to be transported elsewhere (at some risk, because while usually they stop again within a day or two, sometimes they don't stop for weeks, long after their passenger has died). Hoproi warmasters, built like four-eyed, four-trunked elephants, tethered to modified humans in fighting star configuration. Living space ships. The why of all of this is a mystery.
The book is composed of seven stories. All of them are good (though two are minor); several are outstanding. I would imagine that Dowling has written more set in this future. I'd like to find it.
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