FAIRBANKS - What does a young man do when he discovers he’s not a slave but a talented, telepathic R’il’noid, whose father is one of the last pure R’il’nai and therefore, an important figure in the universe? What does he do when he’s mastered the challenge of rebuilding his health after a nearly deadly disease saps him of all his strength? When he finds he’s part of a loving and welcoming family (for the most part) who teaches him how to be something he never dared to believe he could be — a free man?
He takes himself and his friends on a journey to test their skills and strength, and spend some time not worrying about his future.
Sue Ann Bowling takes us back to the Jarnian Confederation with her latest novel, “Tourist Trap.” And like the first, it is a gripping, fantastic science fiction story that is so much more story than scifi. But first, a short refresher: Bowling’s first novel, “Homecoming,” introduced us to the R’il’nai, a humanoid race which can teleport, read minds and see the future. As humans settled planets and galaxies away from Earth, they depended on the R’il’nai for protection from other marauding space races and wisdom in running their planets. But a devastating plague hit the R’il’nai, killing most, and the only way to save the race was to interbreed with humans, creating the R’il’noids. Humans, R’il’nai and R’il’noids (hybrid humans and R’il’nai) form a Confederation.
Although members of the Confederation, humans run their planets as they wish, and there is no interference allowed. Some of the R’il’noids see the humans as a lower species, so keep them for slaves. Roi was one such human, enslaved at birth. He’s almost grown when he is bought by Derik, a R’il’noid who is kinder than most. When Roi comes down with Marfun’s, a disease which only affects R’il’noids, his owner realizes he has enslaved one of his own; when it is discovered Roi is actually related to Derik through Lai, the last pure R’il’nai and Derik’s half brother, the snow hits the fan (a brazen reference to the first novel).
But now, Roi has recovered from the almost deadly and crippling Marfun’s disease, and graduated with top honors from school. Lai and Marna, another R’il’nai from a far-off planet who thought she was the only one left, offer him a graduation present. He chooses to go to Faralon, a wild planet terraformed from Earth during the Ice Age, that offers dog sledding, horseback riding, rock climbing and other adventures in a vast, untamed wilderness.
Although Lai and Marna are hesitant — after all, Roi’s half-brother Zhaim, while strangely quiet about his hatred of the slave usurper, has shown no overt signs of intent to harm Roi, he’s still around and still untrustworthy — Roi convinces them he is able to take care of himself. So he and his salves — companions from his slave days who will be freed when they have the skills and education to survive in the world, and are only “technically” slaves for their protection (I know, it’s confusing if you haven’t read the first book) — land on Faralon and start their adventure. Luckily, Bowling has included a much more extensive recap and list of characters at the beginning of the book, to remind old friends and keep new ones straight.
Sure enough, Zhaim has been working on a dastardly and ingenious plan to not only kill his rival, but to torture him and his friends before they die. It’s rather gruesome, actually, what he has planned and how he goes about doing it. Roi is forced to become the leader his father always knew he was. He learns to guide his talents in the right direction, work with an ambivalent friend who unwittingly betrays the group, and deal with societies with far different norms than he and his kind have.
But far from being a novel about a superman who single-handedly rescues the fair maiden, Bowling shows us a strong man who needs and relies on others, and the savior of the group actually ends up being someone you’d never suspect. And even when he’s “safe,” Roi finds he must make a decision that could very well destroy his soul.
I didn’t think it could get better than “Homecoming,” but Bowling proved me wrong. The characters, already fully fleshed out and intriguing, have grown so much more, and continue to grow throughout the novel.
Even periphery characters are complete, with back stories and attributes. They exist outside the story, so their presence in the story is vital, rather than just being devices with which to move the plot along. Bowling is truly one of those authors whose books you devour, coming up sated but already hungering for another fix.
Although she is currently shopping a different trilogy right now, Bowling leaves hints in “Tourist Trap,” and in person when you talk to her, that she isn’t quite finished with the Jarnians.
There’s more to come, but we’ll have to be patient.
As I said last time, Bowling has a true gift for both science and fiction, blending them into one heck of a story I heartily recommend to my fellow adventurers.
Libbie Martin is a freelance writer who lives in Fairbanks. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Sue Ann Bowling