Triplet, by Timothy Zahn

triplet-by-timothy-zahn coverGenre: Fantasy
Publisher: Baen
Published: 1987
Reviewer Rating: three and a half stars
Book Review by David Hart

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It’s the future, and humanity have colonized 20 planets. Some time ago we also discovered Threshold, which seems to be a conventional planet but isn’t. It possesses a ‘Tunnel’ connecting it to another planet, Shamsheer, which seems to exist in a different universe. The apparently-human inhabitants live in a medieval kind of society, but use technology so advanced that nobody understands it. And Shamsheer itself has a Tunnel connecting it to Karyx, a planet where magical incantations can conjure demons or djinn, indeed any of 67 varieties of Spirit; and control them too (usually).

Naturally mankind has tried to explore this strange Triplet of planets, but is hampered by the nature of the Tunnels, which won’t allow any artifact to pass in either direction. So investigation is left to small parties of researchers, each chaperoned by a courier expert at surviving the inner worlds.

The most experienced of the couriers is Ravagin, but he’s suffering from burn-out and is due a long period of leave. Danae is a poor-little-rich-girl trying to escape from her father’s apron strings. To do so, she gets herself sent to Triplet, where her father’s influence is minimal; and gets herself Ravagin as her courier, to his annoyance. At first their explorations are routine, but eventually they realise that there’s a problem: some Karyx Spirits have managed to get through the Tunnel into Shamsheer and are trying to take it over.

There’s a lot to like about this book. The writing is good, and well paced. The plot works. The characterization is adequate, with Danae the rebellious teenager gradually being turned by adversity into someone more likable; but the inevitable love-story aspect seemed rather forced. However it’s the setting itself that is the best feature of the book, with standard futuristic high-tech being eclipsed by Shamsheer’s enormously superior version; while at the same time having Shamsheer’s sufficiently-advanced technology right next door to genuine magic. Good too is the contrast as the characters move between the advanced civilization of the standard universe, the medieval Shamsheer setup, and the more primitive Karyx.

What’s bad about the book is what it doesn’t contain. Triplet is presumed to have been set up by a vanished race of aliens, but there is no suggestion as to why they disappeared. Towards the end one of the characters offers a possible reason for Triplet’s creation, but this is on a “Hey, I wonder if . . .” basis and doesn’t seem to be the author speaking ex cathedra. The motivation and internal politics of the Spirits is barely touched upon, though the plot implies that they have a pro/anti split.

The thing I missed most though was any consideration of the ethics of the Karyx situation. The spirits are presented as sentient beings of varying intelligence, yet they are routinely enslaved by humans, ordered about, even bound into articles such as swords. Neither the locals nor the visitors give any thought to how the spirits feel about these infringements of their inHuman Rights. It would have added a whole new dimension to the story if these aspects had been considered.

In summary, this is a good book that could have been better still. Well worth reading.

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