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The Wild Boy by Warren Rochelle
(Golden Gryphon Press, $22.95, 260 pages, hardcover; published September 2001.)

This book--strange, subtle, sentimental--is the first novel published by Golden Gryphon Press, and comes from a new writer best cover scanknown for his academic criticism. So there is risk here: an editor who knows his collections may not know his novels, and the most perspicacious critic may bodge utterly the transition from theory to practice. It is thus pleasant to report that the editor has chosen well, and that the author writes fine prose, characterises passing well, and translates his anthropological insight into a gripping narrative of cultural crisis and individual estrangement. There never was an alien invasion quite like the one in The Wild Boy, and it signifies much about humans and the animals they remake to their convenience, if not in their own image...

It's not clear exactly when Warren Rochelle wrote The Wild Boy; perhaps long years passed while it traversed the more conservative quarters of the literary market. So the novel's depiction of a plague-devastated 1990s and alien-manipulated turn-of-the-millennium may have been safe future history when put to paper, or instead an unfolding uchronia; but this affects only the tale's finer degrees of irony. Not at all tentative is the novel's central holocaust: the alien Lindauzi conquer the Earth, initially by guile (plague and propaganda) and then brute force (enslavement and pogroms). They are physically intimidating predators with hugely advanced technology; they have vaguely Classical names and obey absolutely their Emperor, their Crown Prince, and subordinate panjandra; they are a grim grandiose distillation of the Assyrians, the Romans, the Mongols, the Conquistadores, and the Nazis, and behave with apposite arrogance. Nothing novel there; but Rochelle imparts an unsettling spin: however uncouthly genocidal their methods, the Lindauzi have acted entirely out of love: love lost, and then love unrequited.

Basically, the Lindauzi are loyal pets, dogs by best analogy. On their home world, they had masters, the anthropoid Iani, who performed Uplift, bestowing full intelligence on a species they had first merely domesticated. There followed a partnership, a high symbiosis; but a pandemic abruptly annihilated the Iani, and the Lindauzi, surviving but dogged in their loyalty, are now at risk of pining away. Love lost; but perhaps it can be regained. So the Lindauzi come to Earth, hoping that humans can replace the Iani, restore their sacred dependency. But now we are to be the dogs, the Lindauzi the breeders, the overseers, the owners. Humanity is soon divided between lineages bred by the aliens for utility or beauty and tribes of "wolves", skulkers, outlaws, consigned to the wilderness and hunted for sport. The price of continued existence for the human race is that they love their oppressors, but this love is fugitive, and the terrifying affection of the Lindauzi is not easily requited.

A great and affecting sadness is generated by this dilemma. The Lindauzi know only possessive love, exclusive, consuming. Their jealousy is their tragic flaw; they demand a devotion that is too much to expect, yet without which they cannot live. Rochelle dexterously explores this cultural neurosis through two media of counterpoint. First, there is the contrast of a more balanced human love, that of the slave Ilox for his family, and especially for his son, Caleb. And then--the dichotomy around which the entire novel is structured--there is the pairing of disengagement and engagement: Ilox is born into captivity and moves painfully out of it, while his son, born a wild human, just as traumatically enters slavery. A tame boy becomes wild; a wild boy becomes tame--but no. Caleb cannot become what his father was, no more than his father could remain that way. And in the face of this obduracy whole worlds totter.

Rochelle's analysis of different species of love--of the forms love takes within and between species--has a lot to say about how humanity loves, how that love evolves into shared emotional wealth, or, just as easily, into hatred and all the captivities hatred brings. Further, the accelerating horror of The Wild Boy imparts the dreadful truth that even a genuine mutuality in love may not be a safeguard against the tragic sterility that brings tears to the eye but that fertilises no ground. And so The Wild Boy is a sad novel, Dickensianly sad, tugging the heartstrings with some of the rhapsodic lachrymosity that felled Little Nell. This is a danger in a first novel: an amateur's passion may corrode the entire enterprise. But not here: Rochelle's sentimentality is sufficiently in check, even if the amateur does at times show through, as in the gratuitous and contrived "Interchapter Four".

Warren Rochelle has put his academic understanding to unusually fruitful use in The Wild Boy, in a rich and turbulent study of emotional extremism. His literary craft recalls Le Guin, his emotional force Poul Anderson; but his searing insight into cultural dysfunction is very much his own.

(Order from: Golden Gryphon Press, 3002 Perkins Road, Urbana, IL 61802, USA, or visit

Review by Nick Gevers.
More of Nick's reviews are online at Parsec.

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© Nick Gevers 1 September 2001