cover image HAMMERFALL


C. J. Cherryh, . . Eos, $25 (400pp) ISBN 978-0-06-105260-6

In this well-done novel by the prolific, award-winning author of Precursor and Fortress of Dragons, two women with superhuman powers wage psychic and genetic war for control of a civilization. The common people remember the original colonization of their desert world in purely mythological terms as the First Descent. They're unaware that their seemingly immortal ruler, the Ila, has used nanotechnology to control their lives and modify their bodies for survival on their harsh planet. Marak Trin Tain, the outcast son of a desert bandit who unsuccessfully contested the Ila's rule, suffers from a terrifying form of madness. Like many others in this world, he sees visions and feels an almost overwhelming desire to walk out into the desert, heading blindly toward the east. When the Ila captures Marak, instead of executing him, she decides to send him (and a company of other madmen and women) on a desperate mission to discover the source of the obsession that draws them across their world. Unbeknownst to him, however, his civilization, indeed all life on his planet, is on the brink of destruction. Although this book may take place in a different universe from that of Cherryh's much praised Alliance-Union novels, it features her usual blend of gorgeous, slightly knotty prose, deeply conflicted heroes, desperate action and nicely observed cultural details. The first volume in her Gene Wars series, it leaves a number of loose threads to be tied up in later volumes, but is, in and of itself, an entirely satisfying novel. (July)