Friday, September 9, 2011
Review: The Wraeththu Omnibus, by Storm Constantine
So whenever I think about how "good" a book is there always appears in my mind a spectrum. On one end we have PLOT and on the other end there is CHARACTER. I feel like the books that could most objectively be called "the best" fall right smack in the middle of these two things, a perfect mix of plot and characters. But to be honest the books I love best tend to be way unbalanced, in favour of the character side of things. Objectively I can admit that these books might not be the most expertly crafted, but I care not at all. It's characters or GTFO for me folks, all the way.
Storm Constantine's Wreaththu trilogy (read by me in a convenient omnibus version) was the perfect example of this. Most of the reviews I see of these three books (that aren't dealing with the role playing game that has apparently been developed around them) complain that the plot is a bit lacking. And they're right. I can see that they're right. Do I care? Not really. Because dude, I dug these books.
The premise that at some point in the future humanity has began to evolve intoa higher form called wraeththu. Wraththu are beautiful and awesome and just, like, so totally superior to mankind in every single way. Or so they like to think of themselves. Really the wraeththu are just as flawed as man is, just in slightly different ways. The blurb of the omnibus edition made out like these books would deal with mankind's struggle not to be replaced. Which was crazy misleading, because there is no struggle. Mankind has lost. It is the final twilight of man. Really the books deal with the the establishment of wraththu society, and how the new race struggles to find it's own identity without falling into the same behaviors that ruined mankind.
The three books span a decent amount of time, and when we start out the wraeththu are little more than separate waring tribes, and by the end we see that civilizations start to form. This isn't the point to the books and mostly happens in the background, but it's pretty cool to see the subtle evolution.
I will say that the fact they were written in the 80s shows like crazy. The apololyptic wasteland of the first book just screams early nineties, mad max/tank girl, and the extended ruminations of gender read as dated to me. But still interesting. The wraeththu are both male and female, and they either start of as male humans and are "turned" to wreaththu, or, later in the series, pure wraththu babies start being born. The contrast in how turned and born wraththu dealt with gender was fascinating.
You'll note I still really haven't talked about plot. It's not fair to say that there is no plot, because there is! Book 1 deals with turned wraeththu Pelaz, who is being groomed by a higher being to be the supreme emporer of the world. The only problem is Pelaz' unforturnate choice of lover, Cal. Of the three books this was my least favourite, as Pelaz is a fairy cold and removed protagonist. It's not terrible though, but the final two volumes are worlds better.
Book two, and my favorite, revolves around born wraeththu Swift. It's basically a coming of age tale, and I'm a sucker for the coming of age tale. And it's a really good one. Swift's father is just a little bit evil (but still painfully sympathetic to the reader), and his hostling (mother, basically) is just a little bit batshit insane, and poor Swift is one of the first pure wraeththu babies to be born, so it's not like he has anyone to tell him what to expect as he grows up.
The last book focus' on Cal, who continues to be the spanner in the works of many a well laid plan, as he fights against his ineviable destiny. Cal is. Well. Cal is Cal. Beautiful and sharp and funny and more than a little bit broken. This is the only book he narrates, but he appears across all three and it was a delight to watch how our understanding of him grows as we see him from first Pelaz's point of view, and then Swift's, and then finally his own.
Really, if you're going to read these books, you're going to do it for the characters. They're beautifully written, sympathetic and consistent. The plot? I mean, yeah, it's there. But the endings get wrapped up way too easily (more often than not by using the power of magical wreaththu sex. No really), but the flaws in plotting do not at all detract from these books. Assuming you love characters as much as I do, that is.
I bought this omnibus