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Legacies and Blueheart by Alison Sinclair
(Legacies: Millennium, £5.99, 419 pages, paperback; first published 1995; reissued 5 October 1998. Blueheart: Millennium, £6.99, 348 pages, paperback; first published 1996; this edition published 5 October 1998.)

There is something inherently satisfying about spending time with an SF author whose worlds have a tangible solidity about them. Alison Sinclair certainly qualifies in that respect. These two re-issues by Millennium depict worlds which bear the mark of a caring and careful creator. No sloppy, gerry-built pseudo-Earth planets here, folks, just plain and honest craftsmanship. Of course, it helps enormously that the author also turns out to be very good with characters, and no slouch at turning the plot in unexpected directions either.

Legacies, the earlier of the two works, has the greater variety of characters, including an alien race depicted with skill and sensitivity, and a disabled central figure who is depicted with a great deal of subtlety. Lian D'Halldt is a superb creation: brain damaged in a fall as a boy, his brain partially repaired by nanotechnology, he provides a central pivot point around which the whole story of Legacies moves. From his empathic understanding of the alien kinder'el'ein that the colonists on his planet have difficulty communicating with, to being the catalyst in bringing about the return voyage to the colonists' home planet, Burdania, to the events their return brings about on the home world, Lian weaves together his fellow characters, bringing about changes within them that lead to understanding. In so doing, he reveals for the reader the hidden truths about the kinder'el'ein, the colonists and the Burdanians, about the guilt that both colonists and Burdanians suffer under, and the way to their redemption.

On the face of it, Blueheart is a much simpler tale, though the more restricted canvas gives Sinclair the opportunity to delve even more deeply into her characters. Blueheart, a water world, is partway along the road that leads to full terraforming, converting the planet into an 'Earth norm' world. But, in creating a band of adaptives, altered humans who can live and work in the seas of Blueheart, the colonising powers have opened up a Pandora's box, for the adaptives like the life they lead, and want to keep Blueheart as an unchanged ocean world. All of this comes to a head when Rache, an adaptive who has become an important planetary administrator, finds a corpse beneath the sea. The discovery triggers a tragic response, which arouses Rache's curiosity even further, and leads to the eventual unraveling of plots and countermeasures on both sides of the divide between adaptive and normal human.

Blueheart is the more satisfying book of the two, because it has such overwhelming direction to its plot, and such great characters, who, even in their differences come across as being very human at their core. This is SF of a very high order indeed. The ideas and plot in these two books may not be mega-big and dazzling in a Benford/Brin sense, but instead are deeply involving reads of great power. Watch out for Alison Sinclair -- she builds worlds that can break your heart.

Review by John D Owen.

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© John D Owen 30 January 1999