Orion Arm - The Rampart Worlds: Book 2 by Julian May (HarperCollins Voyager, £16.99, 364 pages, hardback; published 21 June 1999. Trade paperback,£10.99, published 17 January 2000.)
Orion Arm is the second volume in the Rampart Worlds series, the first of which, Perseus Spur, I reviewed here last year in less than glowing terms.
There are good things and bad things about the latest volume. The main good thing is that this book isn't quite as bad as Perseus Spur, being somewhat more readable without incurring too many feelings of utter disbelief. The bad? May's storyline still leans too heavily on plot devices lifted from the Aaron Spelling School of Soap Opera, like Dallas with added rocketships.
Orion Arm continues where Perseus Spur left off, as far as plot goes.
Helly Frost, having walked out on the family multi-galactic firm in a huff, is back on the resort world of Kedge-Lockaby, playing the beach bum. Then someone tries to assassinate him (familiar territory this -- it's how the first volume began), which gets Frost back into the family game of intrigue and business politics. The mega-company Galapharma AC had sent the assassin, and events conspire to put the onus upon Helly Frost to quickly dig up the facts about Galapharma's treasonable activities and thus save the family concern from being swallowed by the giant combine.
As in the first volume, the pace is breakneck, and May pours on the action to keep the pages turning. The trouble comes when you slow down enough to think about what she is putting on the page, when disbelief comes to the fore. Then you realise that people like Poul Anderson (The Trouble Twisters) and Fred Pohl (The Space Merchants) have been here before a long, long time ago, and made a much better job of it.
Julian May's Rampart Worlds combines the most distasteful aspects of American capitalism and cultural imperialism with space opera, and then tries to make us feel happy for the trillionaires who come out on top in the end, just because they are the guys in white hats. Sorry Ms May, but in these days of more sophisticated authors like Iain Banks and Ken McLeod, even space opera has certain minimum standards, which Orion Arm fails to reach.
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© John D Owen 4 September 1999