Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Heritage of Hastur (1975)

Much to my surprise, Heritage of Hastur (1975) by Marion Zimmer Bradley proved a far more solid, far more compelling novel than I ever expected. As a teenager, I'm sure that this novel would have bored me to tears, but as an adult, I find that MZB has provided us a character-centric story with deep gravitas.

The story follows two characters: Regis (in third person), and Lew (in first person). Having known each other growing up, and both nobles, each is pulled in a different direction on the planet of Darkover. Regis wants to go off-world, while Lew isn't sure that he wants to assume more power.

By all rights, this story shouldn't work nearly as well as it does. It's steeped in the cheesy schlock that is 60's sci-fi, complete with psychic powers and power dramas. That Marion takes her own world and subverts it into a coming of age character drama, and makes it work at that level, at an almost purely literary level, deserves respect.

I find that truly great novels leave me at a loss for words. They exceed themselves. They exceed me. Talking about the plot somehow misses what really goes on inside the novel, forcing you to speak of themes and notions. The novel becomes a nation unto itself, where all the explaining in the world can't communicate any useful thing to you. No, you need to visit, to experience the world given. The author spent 120,000 words telling the story, and she needed every one of those words.

It's not a perfect novel, being just a little too early for its time. The ending, in particular, wrapped up a little too quick and a little too neatly, the new characters there each being under-used, under-realized, and little more than plot devices. Later in the novel, I often wonder why the characters are making their decisions, especially Lew. These decisions often seem out of character, especially for him. Thematically, I found that the first half of the book didn't lead well enough to the second half, robbing the ending of any deep satisfaction. The ending felt like an ending, but it wasn't really the ending that the story asked for. Yet even with these quibbles, forty years later, this novel still stands solid.