Although it's an unorthodox procedure, I'd like to start this review by quoting Edward Maret's blurb in extenso. I hope my reasons for having done so will become plain a little later on.
This blurb, unlike so many blurbs, offers what is actually a pretty accurate summary of the novel's plot.
The "but" is that, reading the blurb, you'd probably expect the novel to be a space action-adventure yarn, something a bit like RoboCop, perhaps, except with space-opera trimmings. In fact, Edward Maret is not really that at all, which may come as a disappointment to Battlestar Galactica-gawpers but should be a delightful surprise to most other readers. It is not flawless -- a secondary element of the final plot resolution seems somewhat contrived for melodramatic effect (it involves Devil-worshipping aliens), and the novel's structure as a whole has an aura of slight precariousness without ever quite falling apart -- but it is certainly absorbing reading.
Why? Because Katz has filled it with interesting ideas. Again, that's a statement that might mislead, so let me immediately qualify it. Many of the ideas are not especially sciencefictional. Some are: Katz's snapshot portrayals of differing alien and far-future-human cultures as his protagonist wanders the spaceways in the book's central section hold a good deal of interest (although the culture with which he populates Sparta, the planet on which much of the tale unfolds, is somewhat pedestrian, as if intended only as dutiful backdrop). But many of the novel's passages -- either integral or digressionary -- are concerned with the working out of philosophical ideas: ethical, moral and religious.
This is not to say that the text is any way stuffily didactic -- indeed, it's refreshingly well written and flows along with scarce a moment of turgidity. Instead, what Katz has done is to take some basic formulae from science fiction and use them to construct a skeleton upon which he can drape a rather unexpected flesh, with the result that the book has superficially the affect of light reading yet is constantly titillating the intellect. That, of course, is what all science fiction is claimed to do by its proselytizers, but in fact is what very much of it does not.
It's a difficult task that Katz has taken on, and as noted he doesn't do it with complete, 100% success. (There are also a few irritating micro-flaws that should have been picked up by the copy-editor.) Yet he comes very close -- certainly close enough that Edward Maret, even though it won't keep you up into the small hours feverishly turning the pages, is an extremely rewarding piece of work.
If you want stark shoot-em-up entertainment then this is not the book for you -- there is surprisingly little dramatic action of that sort, despite the blurb, and Maret's time as cyborg AX-17 occupies only a small portion of the narrative. If you prefer your sf thoughtful and more deeply involving, however, Edward Maret can be heartily recommended ... and Katz, whose first novel this is, is certainly an author to watch.
Review by John Grant.
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© John Grant 20 October 2001