Tuesday, March 04, 2014

from SFRA Review #251 March/April 2001




CERES STORM


review by Phillip Snyder

Readers of Gene Wolfe may find much to admire in Ceres Storm, a first novel by Clarion West graduate David Herter. So might fans of Samuel R. Delany’s Nova-era space operas and John Varley’s early clones-across-the-solar-system extravaganzas. But it is chiefly with the far-future sagas of Wolfe that readers of Herter’s debut will feel an unmistakable resonance. The armature for the novel is a hero’s quest across a colorful and mysterious solar system. Young Daric, along with fellow clones Yellow and Black Daric, Jason, and the golden Grandpapa, sweeps across the starlines in quest of the lost technologies of their ancestor Darius the Leader, legendary ruler of planets and creator of the nanotech storm of the title. In the course of Daric’s journeyings, he is kidnapped by agents of a powerful cartel headed by the Krater-Tromon Clan, escapes on the haunted Starswarm Pyre, and gradually begins to piece together both his heritage and his destiny.

Fairly pulpish, this. But ultimately, Ceres Storm is more redolent of Iain M. Banks than of Doc Smith, and more reminiscent of Wolfe’s Fifth Head of Cerebus than either. Set in a future so distant that its science and technology seem like magic, the novel is a rich blend of myth and machine, of ancient wonder and modern marvel. The timescale alone is gratifyingly vast: it is 8,000 years in the story’s past that Darius the Leader’s thousand-year reign carried humanity to the edge of the solar system and beyond. It is a time of interplanetary telepresence ("doppeling"), of insectile surveillance devices called "weeforms," of "information drinks" permitting the liquid infusion of nanotech databases, and the fabled "Machineries," unimaginably powerful technologies capable of transforming entire planets. It is also, however, a time where far future meets distant past in the Moebius strip of science fantasy. Ceres Storm is a world where characters bear names like Quintillux and Penthesilia, where judgments are rendered by the Scales and enforced by the Pain Dragon, where castles are buried within planets, and a hero may (or may not) be transmogrified to an oak. Most of the time, the result is magical indeed, albeit a bit chilly.

Herter presents the reader with an array of narrative artifacts, their meanings layered like sediments through multiple levels of understanding, and the reader may (or may not) make sense of the pattern. Occasionally, like young Daric himself, the reader is overwhelmed by surfaces and blind to patterns. Amid the novel’s shimmering bits of crystal, of Tyrian purpose, of century roses and eidolons and avatars, it’s not always easy to keep one’s bearings, partly because Herter has yet to learn the trick of deeper, warmer characters to stand out against his exotic backdrop. And for all the similarities otherwise, Herter’s fantasy lacks the passion of Delany’s space operas, the engaging wit of Zelazny’s, the brashness of Varley’s. Minor cavils, perhaps. Ceres Storm is not only a first novel, after all, but also merely the first installment of a series, and its sequels may begin to emulate Herter’s models not only in their density, but in their richness of character, as well

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