On My Way to Paradise
Andrew R. Hall
Bantam , 1989. Paperback.
Suggested retail price: $4.95 (US)
I have picked up many of Wolverton's novels in used books stores overthe years after reading his praises from the list's many SF fans andwriters, and I have enjoyed a few short stories of his I have comeacross. I am finally getting around to reading the novels, and I amglad I did.
Except, however, for his first novel, On My Way to Paradise.In it, Wolverton amply demonstrates his ability at world-building,creating complex characters that I come to care about, and telling agood tale. But the balance is off. It kind of feels like he threw ineverything that he had in his bag of tricks at the time. The openingis strong, but by half way through the story feels like it is gettinglonger than the material warrants. Three quarters through I ambegging him to end the thing. A good chunk of the last quarterinvolves a long voyage over an alien planet, with lots of descriptionsof the exotic creatures they encounter. The creatures areinteresting, but it feels like an exercise from a "creating aliencreatures" unit in a science fiction writing class. It doesnï¿½t movethe story ahead at all. As I say, there are good parts, andWolverton's favorite theme -- the struggle to act morally in aviolent, immoral world -- is clearly presented. But all the partsdon't add up to a satisfying whole. I'd advise readers to skip it,and move on to his second novel, Serpent Catch, where thingsstart getting good.
Serpent Catch is set in the future, on an alien planet whichhumans have cleaned out and used as a zoo for reconstructed speciesfrom Earth's past, including humanoid species like the Neanderthal.The planet has been cut off from the rest of humanity, and technologyseems to have reverted to an early modern (about 1700) level. Despitethe outer space setting, Wolverton follows the tropes of fantasy morethan science fiction. In particular Wolverton seems to use the questfrom Lord of the Rings as a model. A small, motley group of humanoidsfrom different races depart their happy (but threatened) home to entera territory they greatly fear in order to steal something preciousfrom under the noses of the evil realm's leaders. There is even aGandalf-like character, the last of the original starfarers, who wearsa special suit that gives him superhuman power and extends his lifespan greatly. There is lots of sword play, and lots of violence.
But then Wolverton does interesting things with this basic premise.First of all, he does a great job at creating the other humanoidspecies, giving them rich and intriguing cultures and characteristics,which the reader comes to understand little by little. And unlikeOn My Way to Paradise, where his ability to create seems morelike a game, this time the unique aspects of the different species areused in fascinating ways to advance the plot. Also, unlike Tolkien,the characters' sexual lives are an important aspect of the novel.His portrayal of the different sexual practices of the different racesand individuals is both fascinating and (in my opinion) tastefullydone. Wolverton delves into the subject about as well as any Mormonauthor I have read.
And lots of other good stuff. There is a sequel, Path of the Hero,which is next on my list of reading material. I look forward tostarting his Runelords series as well.
Andrew Hall Wenatchee, WA
© 2002 Andrew R. Hall < firstname.lastname@example.org >