by Russell Hoban
Jonathan Cape, ISBN 0-224-04370-6, 1996, 184pp, L14.99
A book review by Evelyn C. Leeper
Copyright 1997 Evelyn C. Leeper
In the 21st century (a very different 21st century than that of Greg Egan's DISTRESS, though they take place in only three years apart), Fremder Gorn is found floating in space sans space suit, sans helmet, sans everything--everything but life that is. This is considered strange, even in Gorn's universe of spaceports with robot sweepers under noctolux lamps cleaning up under signs saying "Mikhail's Quiksnak" and "Q-Bo Sleep." Fremder Gorn's quest to find out how he came to be floating in space also involves finding out what happened to his mother, a famous inventor, and the almost predictable interaction with mysterious government agencies et al.
But Hoban is not so much a novelist as a poet. His classic RIDDLEY WALKER proves he has an eye for language and sounds rarely found in science fiction, and even his narratives written in more standard language (KLEINZEIT, THE LION OF BOAZ-JACHIN AND JACHIN-BOAZ, THE MEDUSA FREQUENCY, PILGERMANN, and TURTLE DIARY are the ones I know of) are more novel-length free verse than prose. I'm sure some lit- crit major will explain that there are strict rules for free verse that this doesn't meet. But to my untutored ear, a sentence like "I've always considered sleep after lovemaking more intimate than the lovemaking: getting through the night together, lying embraced until an arm becomes numb, then lying together like two spoons until sleep doesn't come that way, then turning backs and reverting to aloneness together and the snores, farts, and sleep seemed to have no rest: she mumbled laughed, cursed, quoted from the Bible, sometimes in a voice that seemed different from her own." This is a book that cries out for a reading by the author.
Anyone who has read any of Russell Hoban's works will immediately want to know how to get a copy of this, his latest and perhaps most traditional science fiction book. (This is not to say that it is traditional by any normal definition of the term, of course.) Unfortunately for us USans, this is available only in a British edition, and it will probably be a while before it crosses the Atlantic--assuming it ever does. (Why do I latch on to authors who are impossible to find here?) Of his other works I mentioned, only RIDDLEY WALKER (a post-holocaust novel) and PILGERMANN (a first-person story by a Jew during the Crusades, perhaps best described as magical realism) have been published in the United States, where Hoban is known primarily as an author of children's books. His others--KLEINZEIT (an eventful and mysterious day in the life of its eponymous hero), THE LION OF BOAZ-JACHIN AND JACHIN-BOAZ (a quest for lions in a country that *seems* to be modern England), THE MEDUSA FREQUENCY (involving the talking head of Orpheus and a Vermeer portrait), and TURTLE DIARY are the ones I know of--seem to be available only in British editions from Picador.
(And now that I've pulled his other books off the shelf to refer to them, I want to go back and re-read them all.)
%T Fremder %A Russell Hoban %C London %D 1996 %I Jonathan Cape %O hardback, L14.99 %G ISBN 0-224-04370-6 %P 184pp
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