Fast Forward Book Review for August 2006
New York: TOR, 2006
by Colleen R. Cahill
Many authors feel a debt to the one of the greats of science fiction, H.G. Wells. Not many have saluted the master in the way that Sean McMullen has in his latest Moonworlds Saga, Voidfarer, by writing a comic fantasy. But this is just what Voidfarer is, a retelling of The War of the Worlds, but in the fantastic setting of McMullen#39;s earlier novels, Voyage of the Shadowmoon and Glass Dragons. In this meeting of magic, technology and humor, the reader is the clear winner with an entertaining story that definitely shows its roots.
Wayfarer Inspector Danolarian is having a troubled time; not only has he failed in his mission to bring back a wayward Empress, but he just found out his sweetheart has a bit of a racy past and seems to have fallen back into her old ways. What could be worse? How about invaders from the nearby moon world of Lupan? Ten cylinders have arrived over several days that carry not only devastating magic and technology, such as a heat beam that can melt stone and large walking towers, but also beings that feed on the life force of the people, leaving behind bodies "like wet pastry, their bones crumbling." When the invaders prove strong enough to triumph over the power of the glass dragons, there seems to be no hope in sight.
It is hard not to see the parallels to The War of the Worlds: both are first person narratives, both the main characters see the explosions on the far away world that herald the coming invasion and both are present at the first meeting with the invaders. There are tripod machines with tentacles and cages in both books and McMullen even uses some of the same chapter titles, opening with "Eve of the War" and ending with "Wreckage." But these are not identical stories: Wells takes a very dark tone and has a definite message under the story, one noting that humans can be just as ruthless at exterminating things as the Martians were in his tale. McMullen has a lighter touch and several scenes may leave you laughing. He does not, however, make light of the devastation, death and sorrow caused by the callous aliens. Part of the humor comes from the nature of the characters themselves: it is hard to be totally serious when your squad of constables includes a drunkard, a woman who preaches revolutionary overthrow of the government and an overweight talking cat. McMullen also deviates from the original by having the visitors from another world more like humans than Well#39;s creatures, and he even has a stow-away who tries to mitigate the damage being done by his fellow aliens.
You don#39;t need to read McMullen#39;s earlier books nor The War of the Worlds to understand Voidfarer, but you really should to experience all the levels of this work. For the tribute to Wells, for the next volume in the Moonworlds Saga and just for the fun of it, you need to get Voidfarer.