Enchantress From the Stars

Monday, March 1, 2010

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Sorry for the long break in posting. Between the toothache, car problems, and finally getting past the stumbling block in my story, I haven't been on blogger much at all in the past couple weeks.

So far this blog has weighed rather heavily on the fantasy side of the spec fic. It shouldn't be too surprising since that is what I read the most. But I do enjoy a good sci-fi story from time to time. Right before I dropped out of sight, I made it to our newly renovated library, making sure to pick up some sci-fi to cover here on the blog. Here is one I've read before and need to add to my personal library: Enchantress From the Stars by Sylvia Louise Engdahl.

This story has one of the more unusual point of view setups I've come across: first person and third person. It is primarily told from the perspective of a young woman after the story has taken place in reflective first person. She is retelling the events to a cousin who had asked about the Service, in order to help the person to decide whether to join the Academy. It is also to help put her thoughts and memories in order before writing her official report, which must include the perspectives of the two cultures encountered in the mission.

Since Elana is the one telling the story, it feels natural for her to write about the events from the two men in third person. The switching back and forth work rather well to convey different interpretations of the same events. One person's magic is another person's science. Maybe it is all magic in the end.

In the much advanced age of Elana's world, society has progressed beyond war and suffering. However, not all of the worlds in existence have achieved that level of advancement. Agents of the Anthropological Service work to keep Youngling societies from overwhelming less advanced Youngling societies without revealing themselves. Disclosure would cause great harm to developing cultures. They have a right to grow into their own place in the universe, to realize their own potential. And who knows, that uniqueness might offer some new insight to the Federation. Something that could only have come from being allowed to learn from their own mistakes.

Mistakes happen every step of the way for Elana. To begin with, she was never supposed to have been on Andrecia at all. She was supposed to be studying for her First Phase exams to make up for the time missed at the Academy in order to go to the family gathering. You took the Oath once you completed Third Phase. But Elana thought that the mission to somehow stop one Youngling world from taking over another sounded exciting. She thought of the Younglings as exotic beings, rather than people. Danger was an abstract. So, she hid on the landing craft containing her father, her fiance, and a female agent who resembled the native women.

After Ilura is vaporized by a surprise encounter with two of the invading Younglings, dying in order to prevent disclosure, the danger becomes real. And that is only the beginning. Instead of Ilura doing "magic" to scare off the invaders, who believe in only what their science can measure, Elana's father must use his own daughter in a crucial role of an improvised plan. She doesn't have the features to pass as a native, so she must somehow work through a native to achieve the same result.

To Georyn and his brothers, she is the Enchantress, able to do wondrous magic. She sets them tasks that will help them prepare for their quest to slay the "dragon." Georyn does far better than they expected. The trials unlock innate abilities and ready him for the fearsome sights and sensations he will have once he faces the invaders.

Jarel is a doctor in the Youngling Empire sent down with the fledgling colony and pacification team. The Empire sees the natives as ignorant savages, little better than animals. Jarel feels differently. He wonders if there might be something more to them and questions the decision to occupy an inhabited planet. His values are put to the test. He will have to make a stand on whether his people belong there and who he should aid.

Elana comes to some rude awakenings about what it means to be in the Service and to see suffering and not interfere. It takes every ounce of willpower and ingenuity from the agents, courage from Georyn, cooperation from Jarel, and a heartful of faith from everyone to make the plan succeed.

I found this to be a fascinating glimpse into how space faring societies might develop and what they would do once out in the stars. Maybe some great Federation out there is allowing us to make our mistakes, to grow into our own potential. Even if it means allowing our suffering to continue. After all, suffering is what propels us to improve our lives. It comforts me to think there might be such a Federation out there, studying us, waiting for us to grow up, and allowing us the chance to do so.


Kim Pierce said...

welcome back jaleh d!

MeganRebekah said...

I love the concept of writing a book in both 1st and 3rd person. Very intriguing!

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