cover image HOUSE OF REEDS


Thomas Harlan, . . Tor, $25.95 (414pp) ISBN 978-0-7653-0193-2

In Harlan's exciting sequel to Wasteland of Flint (2003), which imagined a future dominated by a triumphant Japanese-flavored Aztec empire, numerous intelligent species are chafing beneath the Imperial power on the turbulent planet Jagan in a distant galaxy. After a slow start to bring those who haven't read Wasteland up to speed, the plot takes off, propelled by credible characters of various ilks. Gretchen Anderssen, a Swedish xenoarcheologist who seeks to delve into the ancient past, makes a modest, engaging heroine, but it is Malakar, an elderly lizard female, who is the most compelling figure. Through this alien creature's sad and sibilant language the author gradually reveals that Malakar's own race, the Jehanan, is not native to Jagan. This clue helps lead Gretchen to the horrendous secret of the mysterious "House of Reeds." Other distinctive characters include Tezozómoc, the Emperor of Méxica's weak, vain youngest son, who ultimately achieves a measure of manhood; Itzpalicue, a fascinating old woman who pulls the strings that maintain Imperial power; and Mitsuharu Hadeishi, the brave captain of a military space cruiser. Harlan clearly pays homage to Jack Vance and other classic writers of SF's Golden Age, but in devoting about a third of the book to the mechanics of fighting, he too often loses sight of the human story at the novel's center. (Apr. 7)

Forecast: The author is also a game designer, and the emphasis on battle detail will help lure SF gamers.