The Broken God, by David Zindell

the-broken-god-by-david-zindell coverGenre: Science Fiction
Publisher: Bantam
Published: 1993
Reviewer Rating: two stars
Book Review by David Hart

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This is the first book of the trilogy “A Requiem for Homo Sapiens”, which is the sequel to Neverness. It would be possible to follow the story as a stand-alone, but I strongly suggest you read Neverness first (apart from anything else, if you don’t like Neverness, you certainly won’t like this).

The action takes place 10 years after the end of Neverness, and is narrated by the protagonist of that book, Mallory Ringess. However here he doesn’t actually feature as a character, only as narrator, since he has left the planet. He tells the story of his son, Danlo, who has been raised by the Neanderthal-like Alaloi.

When his tribe all perish of a viral plague, Danlo is forced to make his way to the city of Neverness, where he first comes under the influence of an alien Fravashi philosopher. He then becomes a novice in the Order of space pilots to which his father belonged, and meets another novice called Hanuman who becomes his friend and enemy. Then, after the obligatory institutional-bullying subplot, for the bulk of the book they become involved in a new religion that is being created by Bardo, Mallory’s friend.

I didn’t find this book at all enjoyable. The main reason for this was the writing: there is too much of it. It’s a long book and it has many long paragraphs often occurring in clusters, with each paragraph having up to 400 words and taking up most of a page. That would be tolerable if they were interesting paragraphs, but they seldom are. They might contain a detailed description of a process (such as carving a statue) or an historical explanation, or just consist of “This is what happened next”. A better writer would have turned them into dialogue, or at least split them into more digestible chunks. A better editor would have made extensive use of his red pen, or rather several red pens. As it is, I frequently had difficulty stopping my attention from wandering.

My other criticisms of Neverness were the minimalist plot and the rigidity of the characterisation. This time I can’t complain about the plot, not because there’s a lot but because this book is clearly the first of three (or second of four!) and is only trying to lay foundations for the rest of the series. The characterisation has improved a bit, though. Bardo is less predictable than before, and Danlo is a much more complex and likeable hero than Mallory. However “improved a bit” is still a long way from “good”.

Zindell fails to get me emotionally engaged with the characters, and fails to make them react plausibly to events. Instead the book resembles those of 50 years ago, which where the action was the important thing. And that just won’t work when not much happens over 600 pages.

There are good points to the book too. The alien Fravashi philosophy is well done, and that section of the book moves along at a sensible speed. We learn a bit more about the odd sects and religions, and how they came about. And at the end, Danlo is about to fly off to save the galaxy, giving hope for excitement to come. So, though reading this book has been a chore, I shall read the rest of the series. I shall read the rest of the series. I shall read….

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