Drek Yarman by Keith Roberts
(Spectrum SF #1, February 2000, through #3, June 2000. Ordering details below.)
Drek Yarman is an indirect sequel to Kiteworld (1985) which introduced a post-holocaust world, the Realm, over which the Church Variant held sway and where the Kites--great Cody manlifters in which the Corps Observers float by night and day--guarded against the return of the 'Demons' that once laid waste to the world. This world was also wracked by strife between the Church Variant, the Ultras and the Middle Doctrine that threatened to explode into a violent conflict that would throw the Realm into chaos.
The eponymous protagonist provides the bulk of the narrative voice for this yarn, rendered with a slangy, salty, curmudgeonly tone that quickly establishes Yarman as a very believable, flawed, not always lovable but always understandable and very human character. This flow of reminiscences is punctuated by brief segments narrated in an intentionally contrasting highly polished, academic tone by Argent Helman, a personage high in the upper echelons of the Church Variant who is recording a scholarly history of the same events Yarman is colloquially recounting. Roberts, by employing this dual perspective authorial technique, gives the reader compelling, contrasting views of his invented world from simultaneously a very vivid, immediate, emotional one and from a broader, detached, wider purview that provides essential background for Yarman's personal account.
Yarman's crusty, colorful tale is that of a young man from the slums of Fishgard who dreams of working on the Kiteships. He struggles to get the education that will allow him to fulfill his dream with minimal help from his sea-going father, negligent mother or prostitute sisters. Yarman is propelled into the next phase of his existence, the docks, when an incident with one of his sister's clients results in a violent altercation and a scandalous incestuous affair, forcing him to move on. He achieves his goal--working on a Kiteship--through hard work and a few dark deeds. Yarman's success at his job leads him to marriage, children and what should be happiness, but his past haunts him. Torments built up over the course of a stormy life make him a violent man whose uncontrollable temper slowly destroys the life he has created just as the Realm collapses around him as a result of a schism in the church.
Roberts, through the mouthpiece of Yarman, draws a convincing portrait of a bleak existence aboard ships and in the squalid maritime towns of the Realm. Also, Yarman is a character who is an ideal vehicle for the story the author wishes to tell and the observations he wishes to make about the vagaries and paradoxes of the human personality, the breakdown of society, and, through the women in Yarman's life--from his sisters to his wife to a young girl he becomes obsessed with--the theme of the primitive heroine.
Drek Yarman, completed just prior to Robert's retirement due to illness, is an interesting and colorful SF novel exemplifying that subgenre, the post-holocaust story. Descriptions of the Kiteship workers and the voyages they make are particularly fascinating and absorbing while the stormy emotions that plague the narrator-protagonist engage the reader's sympathy. The towns, institutions, economy, steampunk technology, and politics of the Realm are vivid and intriguing enough to make this reviewer eager to seek out Kiteworld for more of this milieu. As of now, this novel is only available in serialized form in the UK SF magazine Spectrum SF. Drek Yarman deserves the wider exposure and readership book publication would provide.
Full details from www.spectrumpublishing.com
Review by Amy Harlib.
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© Amy Harlib 29 April 2000