The Tomorrow Testament, by Barry B. Longyear

the-tomorrow-testament-by-barry-b-longyear coverGenre: Science Fiction
Publisher: iUniverse
Published: 1983
Reviewer Rating: three and a half stars
Book Review by David Hart

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In 1979/80, Barry Longyear’s Enemy Mine won the Nebula and Hugo for best novella. It was subsequently made into a “Major Motion Picture”, but even so I liked the story. The Tomorrow Testament takes place elsewhere in the same war and has a similar brotherhood-of-sophonts theme, but is a quite different book. It is not a sequel, and there is no need to read Enemy Mine first.

The year is 2072, but mankind has already colonized hundreds of planets throughout this quadrant of the galaxy (we’d better get a move on). This has brought us into conflict with the lizard-like Dracs, who have been spreading out for a few thousand years longer. In particular the shared planet Amadeen is the site of terrorist atrocities by both sides, resulting in large-scale interstellar warfare.

We see this from the viewpoint of Major Joanne Nicole, an Intelligence officer captured by the Dracs. While a POW she rescues three Drac children from a fire, but is blinded in the process. As a result, she is taken in by a Drac philosopher-leader and taught their history and way of thinking, and plays a central role in the peace process.

Though it sounds like Space Opera, it is not. The war gets only a couple of brief scenes, just to set up the plot. Though Nicole visits four planets, there is no dwelling on exotic ecosystems or marveling about the transportation. Instead what you get for most of the 200 pages is to share Nicole’s gradual education in the Talman, the Drac system of history/philosophy/scientific-method.

If this sounds a little unexciting, that’s because it is, especially at first before you realize you’re supposed to be paying attention; and it isn’t helped by the way some of this information is contained in the chapter-heads (as in Dune, among others). What is more, that is almost all you get. There is no humour, no love story (a point in its favor), and little attempt at characterization. Worse, I got no frisson of alienness from the Dracs; they behave just like humans with scales. The Talman is presented as more advanced than the human equivalents, but it doesn’t feel qualitatively different.

The good news is that the writing style is reasonable and the plot well contrived, as the “What is going on?” merges into Whodunnit. Short stories from the Talman are regularly offered, and are not without interest. The pace of the book picks up in the second half, and the ending is done well. However, you will either like or loathe it depending on whether you like to be educated by your SF (the most blatant example is Modesitt’s Teach Yourself Blacksmithing and Cabinet-making in the Recluse series).

I do like that sort of thing in moderation, thus the rating. Many won’t, so be warned. Perhaps the touchstone should be the Dune series: if you liked the stories but ignored the Bene Gesserit and Fremen quotes, don’t bother with this book. If you liked both, read it if you come across it; but don’t expect Dune’s depth.

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