Saturday, May 23, 2015

Review of Hunter's Run by Daniel Abraham, Gardner Dozois & George R.R. Martin

Seeing the names of three prominent genre figures on the cover of Hunter’s Run is certain to prompt a reaction: Gardner Dozois, though a writer, is predominantly known as an editor of science fiction shorts; Daniel Abraham has written one original fantasy series and has a second (less original) underway, and George R. R. Martin (need I introduce him) is author of the best-selling fantasy series on the market.  Coming upon the cover, it would be easy for the young genre reader to think what lies beneath is a book of triple the quality. The more experienced, however, may be curious how such a veteran group might work together with a single premise—a science fictional premise, at that.  The answer: the novel is both typical and atypical of the genre, and depending on approach vector (aka expectation) along those two lines, will be considered worth the while or not.

In a fashion similar to Philip Jose Farmer’s To Your Scattered Bodies Go, Hunter’s Run opens with a man, Ramon Espejo, discovering a strange alien object in the remote mountains of the planet Sao Paolo, only to find himself floating in a tank of fluid, disconnected from the world.  His lizard-like captors revealing themselves, he is given the classic choice: death, or helping track down the policeman who had been following Ramon, learned of the alien’s existence, and is now fleeing back to civilization to inform everyone that mankind is not alone on the planet.  Ramon siding with logic—and certainly no friend of the government, he’s put on a leash by an alien calling itself Maneck, and together the two head off in pursuit.  It doesn’t take long, however, before bits of knowledge are revealed that force Ramon wonder whether it is a policeman, or in fact rather something more familiar that the two hunt.

The hunt merely the vehicle, the main focus of Hunter’s Run is Ramon Espejo.  An anti-hero, life burns inside him to the point drinking and fighting have lead him to murder—the reason for his flight to the mountains.  Objectionable, bull-headed, anti-social, atavistic—Ramon’s interaction with not only Maneck his captor but the human population at large is along primitive, uncivilized lines rather than those of the classic hero of science fiction.  Making for an interesting character study, his turbulent on-again off-again relationship with Elana, his continual quest for freedom in a world whose laws are designed to confine him, the events leading to the murder, his turbulent relationship with local law enforcement, and overall chip on his shoulder make Ramon a difficult man to cheer for while he’s tethered to Maneck, cursing captivity, and dreaming of escape.  The resolution of Ramon’s story no less certain, this marked difference in story arc to the majority of science fiction is the single most intriguing point of the novel.  The three authors should be commended on the manner he is developed and the differences in the way he interacts with society in general throughout the development. 

But for as intriguing as Ramon’s character is, his interaction with specific characters seems more perfunctory than in-depth.  The interplay with Maneck, while accomplishing its goal of drawing out the animal dependencies and possibilities of humanity, nevertheless feels as though it sells itself short, a significant amount of space remaining to carry on the discussion. Likewise, Ramon’s confrontation with the man he and Maneck are chasing likewise feels under-developed—more discourse needed to better develop the relationship. As it stands, there is a slight feeling of incompletion, as though it could have been taken further to the benefit of theme.

While the overall frontier/wild-west setting of Hunter’s Run, as well as Ramon’s encounter with a technically advanced species, nicely emphasizes the more primitive aspects of the man’s character, there are some issues with plot.  Firstly is said technical enhancement.  There is a semi-logical impasse that arises in the following statement (taken from Wikipedia) that summarizes plot impetus: “The aliens… enslave Ramon using highly advanced technology, deciding that since he is human, he can be used to track down and find the other intruder.  Heavily contrived, to say the least.  It’s also fair to say, however, that once this impasse has been swallowed, the narrative moves forward apace, leading to equivocal scenes in the town of Fiddler’s Run late in the novel…  But I digress. 

In the end, Hunter’s Run is not what anyone seeing the three names on the cover could predict the story to be.  No lines visible between the author’s contributions (though I suspect Abraham put in the lion’s share of content), the final product is smooth concept and prose-wise.  An anti-hero the focal point, Ramon Espejo is a rough-and-tumble guy, and his story accordingly coarse.  His clawing at the world, sometimes meeting soft meat and others hard bone, evoke a person everyone knows but do not like to spend time with.  The journey the three authors take him on thus defies traditional science fiction, making the book more interesting than a lot of the other familiar tropes used would have it be.  The plot at times convincing (e.g. Ramon’s ultimate fate) and at others contrived (e.g. the initial plot motivation), the result is a story hovering between the socially conscientious and more entertaining works of science fiction. 

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