I’ve been going on a bit of a Michael Scott Rohan reading jag in the last year or so, for no real good reason than I remembered liking his work a lot. I reread the Spiral series (available as Gateway ebooks! Here’s the link to the first one) first, as when I was unpacking boxes looking for the book I really I wanted to read I came upon them instead, and thought I might as well go with it. They’re a lot of fun, although there are some computer-related plotlines that, ummm, don’t really stand up to the modern days of the internet. We can forgive that, though – it’s not like that isn’t true of most SF from before 2000 or so. They’re entertaining, pacey reads, with an enjoyably annoying (at times) lead character and a well-thought-through ‘Other-London’ Neverwhere-y type vibe, and the always popular ‘person from our time gets caught in fantasy world’ setting.
And then I got busy, and forgot to go back to the boxes, until a few days ago when, after a chance conversation at work, I was reminded that what I really wanted to read again was The Anvil of Ice, which is the first part of Rohan’s masterful Winter of the World series. I found it this time, along with its two sequels, but I also found Run to the Stars, his first novel, and decided to read that instead. I’m sure I’ve read it before – there aren’t many books on my shelves that I haven’t read, and I tend to know what they are, as the crushing doom that comes upon me every time I look at the TBR pile on the floor is a very distinctive feeling – but I couldn’t remember much about it, so it went into the front of the queue. (I’m reading Anvil right now, in fact – and it stands the test of time. Seriously good fantasy. But that’s for another blogpost, I think.)
Anyway, Run to the Stars is a book that’s worth checking out, I reckon. It’s most definitely a first novel, and its constant widening of scale – from small remote Scottish island to large port to global conspiracy to space to interstellar war – is intentional but a little disconcerting. The characters who aren’t Bellamy, our hero, can be a little thin in places, although there are some very memorable ones dotted here and there, but what I enjoyed most about the book is how different it felt. Rohan has a complicated and rolling prose style, which works better when he’s writing fantasy or describing natural surroundings, but he’s got a good eye for action and suspense as well. There are a couple of deaths here which, because largely unexpected, hit home, and the series of moral dilemmas the hero has to get through are tricky ones. We’re left knowing that he may well not be making the right decisions, even if he thinks he’s making them for the right reasons. There’s a lovely scene in the last third of the novel where another character takes Bellamy aside and basically says what the reader has been thinking – Are you becoming too much like those we fought to escape? – and we don’t know how he’ll respond. There’s also a rather touching fatalism to the book – it isn’t a grim and gritty future, but it isn’t one many of us would like to live in, either. But Rohan makes it very clear how the human race got to there from here, and it’s a little worryingly likely…
Anyway, that’s enough blethering from me. If you haven’t read Rohan, I urge you to give him a go. If you like fantasy then ANVIL Anvil and the rest of that trilogy are the ones to go for, because they’re brilliant, but if you prefer a little more realism and SF in your writing, perhaps chance a few quid and Run to the Stars.