Braided World – Kay Kenyon

Braided World by Kay Kenyon starts out promising. Sketching out a threat to humanity in a few fast pages, we join an expedition to save humanity by finding an unspecified ‘lost (genetic) treasure’ on a distant planet. Implausible science takes place off-screen while the narrative focuses on these dysfunctional humans.  There are high-points of descriptive writing, both of the vast river delta area and the reed-and-wood construction of homes, but these are decorative, not integral to the story.

The tone of the book reminds me of some ‘classic’ science fiction, possibly a specific book but I can’t quite place it. It might be Gulliver’s Travels, or A Connecticut Yankee – there’s something naive about these human explorers’ attitude to these aliens. The setting reminds me of The Left Hand of Darkness – isolated ‘real’ human(s) on a bizarrely political world with alien interpersonal/sexual dynamics.

Unfortunately for me, Braided World doesn’t succeed with its mix of plot elements and character. While reading I was trying to justify these characters within the context of the story rather than declaring them poorly-written.  But the people annoyed me too many times.

This away team, four people on a mission to rescue humanity, is astonishingly unfocused and immature. If they’re trying to find something, they aren’t doing much to accomplish it. Also, these four continually respond as if these are Earthly foreigners, rather than aliens who look human. The two male leaders from the ship, Anton and Nick, are especially bad in this way. You’d think that an anthropologist would be prepared for shocking cultural practices (slavery and mutilation) yet he rants and raves that his colleague did not intervene with local king in a particular case. Perhaps it’s meant to be ironic, but the young captain seems to ‘get’ the cultural divide better… though he breaks his own spectacular share of local taboos. I’ve been spoiled by Cherryh’s Bren character who is so much more convincing as a cultural outsider.

The set-up

  • Substantially before the start of this book: apocalypse of an unusual kind. A galaxy-roving information-poor cloud somehow sucked away almost all the ‘info’ from earth in a calamity. This stripped away both digital and biological information, adding it into ‘dark matter’. The phrase ‘we will add your technological and biological distinctiveness to our own’ comes to mind.
  • The calamity has left a perilously small population on Earth, with disease a greater and greater threat to the small remaining gene pool.
  • A message is received on Earth saying ‘come find what you have lost’.
  • Retired opera singer funds a private expedition to save everyone, and comes along.
  • En route to the message, a plague strikes the ship’s crew, leaving a fraction alive. The original captain is killed, and I assume many of the seasoned experts too.
  • As they prepare to go to the planet, Bailey appoints a new captain.

Cast of characters

  • Bailey Shaw – retired seventy-something famous opera diva who bankrolls the expedition
  • Anton – mid-twenties, replacement captain after ‘the virus’ kills the real ship captain
  • Nick – mid twenties the exo-anthropologist
  • Zhen (Sen) – science chick
  • Joon – daughter of the king, will be the ruling monarch next
  • Vidori – the king
  • Gilar- a young hoda
  • Maypong – Gilar’s mother

Perhaps Nick and Anton have been brain-damaged by radiation, or a subtle aspect of that plague? I know this was a private expedition, and that these are the surviving dregs, but would Bailey really have settled for two as stupid as this?

spoiler musings

Bailey’s reason for not-singing is the best-developed part of the story. Sister-daughter-clone. And yet she ducks away from the hoda who sings miraculously ‘just like her’? C’mon, she’d have to think of rescuing her.

Anton falls in love ?! with Maypong? How do we know? He says so. Then she dies. Sheesh.

Ah, by the end it is revealed that Nick really is brain-damaged, or driven insane, by his illness or his self-treatment with the local medicines.  Sadly, I didn’t feel that his judgement was that much worse than Bailey’s or Anton’s.  He didn’t sound more paranoid than Anton.

These people are just too stupid/shallow when seen from inside. I like the natives better because I can at least imagine that there is more beneath the surface than is implied.

Maybe this would have been better told from just three points of view – Bailey, the hoda, and Zhen. Ditch the two most clueless twits who are constantly telling rather than showing.

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