Saturday, July 20, 2013

Hunter's Run - George R.R. Martin, Gardner Dozois and Daniel Abraham

A book with three authors, I can't think of many of those. The only one that comes to mind is Black Trilium by Marion Zimmer Bradley, Julian May and Andre Norton, which is less that successful to put it mildly. That book was more or less commissioned. Hunter's Run has a completely different history. That alone makes is a much more interesting book. I read it the first time in Januari 2008, not long after it had been published. Back then I thought it was pretty seamlessly written for a book with three authors. Of course I hadn't read anything by Dozois and Daniel back then. That has since been remedied and I still think it is a very well edited book. Whether you will like it depends on your expectations I guess.

Mankind has made it to the stars only to find out they were beaten to it by more advanced species. None of them managed to overcome the limitations imposed by the speed of light however. That hasn't stopped these species from colonizing other planets. Humans, whit their capacity to bend ecosystems to their needs (or destroy them, depending on where you are standing) are very useful to these species indeed. They get sent out to newly discovered worlds to settle them. One such place is São Paulo, a planet in the early stages of settlement. The kind of frontier mentality that rules the planet suits our violent and anti social main character Ramon Espejo just fine. After he kills someone in a bar brawl, he decides to make himself scarce for a bit and go out prospecting. During that trip, he finds out the planet is not quite as empty has the settlers believe.

Hunter's Run has one of the most unlikely histories I've ever come across in a novel. Gardner Dozois started writing it in 1976 with the intention of writing a short story. He got stuck at one point and put it away for a bit before handing it over to George R.R. Martin to have a go at it. Martin did, but like Dozois, got stuck somewhere along to the way. He handed it back to Dozois in 1982 with the intention of alternating it between them until it was done. This never happened and in the end the two of them decided to bring in a third author, a young writer by the name of Daniel Abraham. Finishing it under the editorship of both Dozois and Martin, who by that time had big reputations in the field, must have been quite an experience for Abraham. He finished the story eventually and it was published as a novella called Shadow Twin in 2004. The three of them saw the potential for a novel in the story however and again it was substantially rewritten and expanded, resulting in the release of Hunter's Run in 2007.

Did all of that work result in a good book? Well that depends on how you look at it. It was published during the long wait for A Dance with Dragons (which wasn't even halfway by then) looking for something else by Martin to read. His influence in the novel can be felt of course, but it reaches back to the period in his career when a lot of his output consisted of short science fiction stories. Martin didn't publish his first novel, The Dying of the Light, until 1979 after all. Hunter's Run is many things but it is nothing like A Game of Thrones. People going into this novel with the expectation of getting something like that will be very disappointed. This should be obvious just from the cover text but there are an amazing number of reviews out on the web complaining about it.

There is something very unusual about the setting of this novel. Back in 1976, science fiction was the domain of white men. Dozois decided to take the rather bold step of coming up with a story with mostly characters Latin American descent. John W. Campbell would have been turning in his grave. It might have been pretty revolutionary if it had actually been published back then. These days, science fiction is thankfully a bit more varied. I understand that the novel fits into the same universe Dozois uses in his 1978 novel Strangers. I own an e-book version of that novel but I haven't read it yet. I might have to do something about that. Dozois' universe is only superficially explored in this novel I would say there is more to tell about it.

It is hard to tell who is responsible for what in this novel but if I had to have a guess, I think the character of Ramon is mostly shaped by Abraham. He is from another generation of writers approaching science fiction concepts in a different way. Ramon is something of an anit-hero. He is violent, anti-social, prone to drinking too much and involved in a very dysfunctional relationship with a woman called Elana. Sex, booze and violence are the crutches he uses to get by in a society he despises. The only time when Ramon is somewhat at ease is when he is alone prospecting. The authors use a science fiction plot device to force Ramon to look at himself and ask himself what is means to be human and how he can become a better man. The answers Ramon comes up with are surprising. It's the psychological struggle Ramon is facing that is the core of the novel. I think Martin and Dozois could have done a lot worse that bring Abraham on board for this.

If you go into this novel leaving Martin's success in the last fifteen years behind, I think Hunter's Run is a very enjoyable novel. Despite being a smooth read in terms of prose, personally I still can't see the cracks in the writing after this second read, there is something of a split in the novel. The early stages and the final section of the novel, set in the major city of the colony, read like a more traditional story, whereas the section set in the unexplored wilderness of the planet are more of a psychological drama. Not all readers will appreciates both parts of the story. Personally I don't think it is brilliant but I do think it is a very interesting work. The history, the impact each writer had on the novel and the phase of their careers they were in at the time make the story that about the novel just as interesting as the one in it. I don't think I've read a lot of books for which that is true. Still, Hunter's Run will not be what each of these three authors will be remembered for. They all have written better stuff. As such, I do consider it a minor work in the bibliographies of Martin, Dozois and Abraham.

Book Details
Title: Hunter's Run
Author: George R.R. Martin, Gardner Dozois and Daniel Abraham
Publisher: Harper Voyager
Pages: 394
Year: 2007
Language: English
Format: Hardcover
ISBN: 978-0-00-726021-8
First published: 2007

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