Tomb of the Fathers by Eleanor Arnason
-- A Lydia Duluth Adventure --
(Aqueduct Press, June 2010)
Reviewed by Bob Blough
Eleanor Arnason is a brilliant science fiction writer. She writes fluidly and movingly. Her novel, Woman of the Iron People from 1991 is a must read for any SF aficionado who enjoys truly interesting alien societies.
Ms. Arnason has concentrated on three series in recent years and post-1993 they have been furthered as several short fiction tales. She is, unfortunately, not prolific, but that only means that her fans (among whom I count myself) look forward to reading each new offering with anticipation.
Of these three sets of linked stories “Tomb of the Fathers” is part of the Lydia Duluth series. The series protagonist is an “interstellar adventurer.” Lydia is a former location scout for Stellar Harvest, a holoshow production company. She has an AI embedded in her brain that not only comments on real-time events, but interjects wry observations of human behavior as well. The AI’s have found the home planet of a race known as the Atch. The Atch left their home many long years ago and now have no history or memory of where it was or why they left. The AI’s study intelligent life to try and understand evolving cultures. Creatures that evolve from millennia of genetic accidents fascinate them. Thus they set up an expedition to the newly discovered Atch home world in order to discover more about these evolved beings.
Lydia’s team is a colorful assortment of human, alien, and augmented humanity and AI construct. This is one of Arnason’s greatest gifts – the creation of alien societies that think differently than we do, from a human perspective. It is the interaction between these various beings and how they each respond to what they discover on the Atch home world that make this adventure so colorful.
And remember it is an adventure tale; even the subtitle proclaims “A Lydia Duluth Adventure.” Things move quickly in this slim volume. There isn’t a lot of interior monologue or deep character study. There are hair-breadth escapes and genetically modified animals. As well, and to be expected in an Eleanor Arnason story, there is a great deal about gender issues. The Atch fathers are the “mothering” part of the sexual system while the females are the hunter/aggressive side. These gender issues create a deeper sense of importance than this type of story usually engenders. This is not, however, a “message” story; it is well and truly an adventure involving slavery, sacrifices to alien gods and murder. A lot of humor is involved as well. The aforementioned turnaround of classical male/female values and a Marx-quoting alien make for some well-placed humorous moments.
I’ll admit this is pretty much fluff, but fluff with more serious thought embedded unobtrusively within, and fun all the way through. Keep writing Ms. Arnason; I, for one, want to see those other series’ short story collections soon. And another novel… please?
Tomb of the Fathers by Eleanor Arnason can be ordered at the Aqueduct Press website here.