Friday, August 28, 2015

Powers that be by Anne McCaffrey and Elizabeth Ann Scarborough

Major Yanaba "Yana" Maddock has received a medical discharge from the company after her lungs were almost completely destroyed in a gas attack during an uprising on one of the company's many planets.  She was lucky to survive, but the experience has left her weak and crippled by lungs that refuse to work properly and reduce her to fits of coughing without warning.  The planet the company decides to send her to so she can enjoy her retirement is a terraformed planet known as Petaybee, a planet settled by people of mostly Irish and Eskimo decent.  It seems like a peaceful planet, one lacking in most of the trappings of a civilized universe - mostly because most of the trappings of the rest of the universe are quickly ruined by the Arctic environment of the ice and snow bound planet.

Yana thought she was sent there to recuperate and enjoy her retirement, but the truth is not that simple.  With her experience working for the company, Yana is seen as a valuable asset for infiltrating the local population who are suspicious of the company and all outsiders.  As she settles into her new life, Yana is constantly surprised by how supportive and welcoming the native population are - she is given the tools she needs to survive the harsh environment without the need for credits or repayment.  The most miraculous thing of all is the way her abused lungs and body begin to health in the clean environments of the planet.  When yet another team of researchers disappears Yana feels the pressure to find answers, her "superior" officer threatening to make life even more difficult for her than it already is.

When part of the missing team is found, Yana comes to understand more about her new planet - discovering one of the most amazing things of all.  Petaybee is not just a ball of ice and snow, it is a sentient being that connects with it's inhabitants, changing them to meet the needs of the environment.  When Yana falls "captive" to the mass hallucination that the planet is "alive", she finds herself in the path of a company that will do anything to get what it wants.  For the first time in a long time Yana feels like she has a family and a place to call "home" - but at what cost?

Powers that be is the first book in the series focused on the planet of Petaybee - a series that is more than a little mind boggling when you consider the whole premise is based on the fact that a planet can be a sentient being.  There are quite a few themes and story arcs that make this series both interesting and very relevant for readers today - just like it was nearly 20 years ago when this series was released.  It is human nature to want to own and control, to use things up while looking for resources - there is a strong message of conservation and connection to the land in this series, the idea that you do not take more than your share, that a planet has enough for everyone if you take without greed.  Many peoples of the world have a close affinity with the land and continue to speak of it as if it was alive with a spirit like that found in people - and idea that is taken to the next level in the form of a sentient planet that can communicate with it's inhabitants.

There is also the theme of people displaced and relocated without thought of how this might impact them in the long term - this was still happening in recent decades, people moved and relocated for their own "good".  For some people the story may come across as heavy handed, but it echoes truly for anyone who has explored Earths own history - people of power make decisions for the people without power everyday, often claiming it is for their own good.  There are some obvious cliches in terms of the characters, but they are cliches because they are part of every good novel.  The arrogant company man who thinks he knows best and who will threaten and bully people into submission.  The perfect balance in the form of the local woman who oozes calm and knowledge, unflappable in the face of arrogance and ignorance.  And of course we have Yana, the person who helps us discover the truth about Petaybee through her own eyes.

Anne McCaffrey was one of the great fantasy and science fiction writers of the 20th century, and her loss is still felt so many years later.  Anne McCaffrey was one of the writers who had a great influence on my life and my reading, helping my teenage self explore a world where it was okay/normal to be homosexual, where people discovered amazing things about themselves through difficult circumstances, and where it was okay to dream about exploring the world by dragonback, having a conversation with a mighty beast that chose you for a lifelong friend.  This may be one of the more science fiction novels from McCaffrey, but it was an infinite please to be reacquainted with this amazing series.

If you like this book then try:
  • The crystal singer by Anne McCaffrey
  • The ship who sang by Anne McCaffrey
  • Decision at Doona by Anne McCaffrey
  • The Rowan by Anne McCaffrey
  • Werehunter by Mercedes Lackey
  • The elvenbane by Andre Norton and Mercedes Lackey
  • Dragonsong by Anne McCaffrey
  • Arrows of the Queen by Mercedes Lackey
  • Alien taste by Wen Spencer
  • The diamond throne by David Eddings
  • Sassinak by Anne McCaffrey and Elizabeth Moon

Reviewed by Brilla

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