There and Back Again
by Pat Murphy
A book review by Mark L. Olson
Tor, 1999, 300 pp, $24.95.
I didn't really know what to expect when I decided to read this book. On the one hand, the cover art made it look like cyberpunk, yet the brief reviews I'd seen described it as The Hobbit set in space. How could it be both and still be good?
By being written by Pat Murphy, apparently.
Somehow she managed to write a book which stands perfectly well on its own, yet which follows the plot of The Hobbit almost scene for scene and character for character. What's more, she does it without mockery, without damage to the feel of The Hobbit, and while still writing a modern SF novel. It's a very good book and a remarkable achievement.
Everyone knows how The Hobbit starts out with the wealthy bachelor Hobbit, Bilbo Baggins who aspires only to live a quiet, comfortable life, and how Adventure comes upon him when a wizard, Gandalf, causes him to meet a band of Dwarves who are off to regain their lost treasure and kingdom.
Well, Bailey Beldon is a Norbit, a smallish race of humans who have inhabited the asteroid belt of the Solar system for thousands of years. One day Gitana, an enigmatic adventurer who had known Bailey's great-grandmother, shows up at his asteroid followed closely by several members of the Farr Clone, a several-hundred-year-old female clone family.
Gitana recruits Bailey to go with the Farrs to find an ancient artifact. Reluctantly, he leaves his quiet asteroidal home and heads off with them into the untamed reaches of deep space. There follow SF adventures with lovely parallels to the Goblins and Gollum and a Ring, and Rivendell, and the Beornings, and the Wood Elves, and Lake Men of Long Lake, and Smaug and the Battle of Five Armies and, finally, the return home.
Murphy has not only done a wonderful job of writing a story, but she managed to translate the plot and the feel of The Hobbit to the far future without loss.
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