I finished reading Anne McCaffery’s Restoree yesterday on the beach, and was a little disappointed. It started off well, had great momentum, and then sort of foundered, lost its sense of urgency, and fell flat at the very end.
I’m a big fan of Anne McCaffery (or was, ten years ago, when I devoured her Pern books indiscriminately), but while I found Restoree well written, I felt let down by her plot.
I am always annoyed when I read a book in which a human is stolen away from Earth, and is thrown onto an alien planet where they quickly adapt and have fun. The Gor and Fionavar Tapestry books come to mind, as am sure do a host of others, in which category Restoree also falls. There never seems to be any philosophical or religious reaction to the discovery of alien planets, systems of belief, or conflicts. Nobody ever seems struck by the implications of their experiences, being instead caught up in foiling villains, falling in love, and having perilous fun.
I suppose it’s easier to write a book if you skip all the serious stuff, but I find the reactions of the protagonists cheapened as a result. They become two dimensional for not even questioning whether Christianity, say, or Islam should be present on the planet, or what it means for the future of the human race when these two worlds contact each other, or how fortunate it is that main aliens invariably are simply humans with names like Bran or Glocko or something (there’s always a supporting cast of reptilian and delicate, willowy aliens in the wings).
One of the things that impressed me the most about Dan Simmon’s Hyperion was that he tackled these questions as honestly as he could. It gave his universe incredible verisimilitude as his characters wrestled with faith, identity and the role humans were to play in the universe as they discovered things. Not only was it a fun read (as Restoree, for the main part, is), but it was an intelligent book, thought provoking and fine.
So what are my gripes? That Anne McCaffery had fun writing this book without bothering to think too deeply about the implications of what she was writing. That she didn’t think things through (why do the Lotharians eschew ground transport as much as they do? Despite the prevalence of aircars, ground transport is just too damn practical for land bound aliens to ignore) or did things simply for effect to create a different world. At times her decisions seem almost arbitrary (how does a civilization that’s been around for 2,000 years and can perform medical miracles and handle interstellar space have not discovered paper or electricity?), her choices made simply to produce startling or amusing contrasts.
It was a fun story though, with some good tension that carried the narrative through the first 3/4’s. By the end, however, I was no longer as invested in the characters as I had originally been; the superficiality of the story had robbed me of my interest and concern in the outcome, reducing my involvement to mere curiosity.
A fun book! Light, easy going, but without much substance.