Tuesday, 25 July 2000

Mary Gentle: Golden Witchbreed (1983)

Edition: Vista, 1983
Review number: 550

Lynne de Lisle Christie is a diplomatic envoy, sent out to newly discovered inhabited worlds to decide what level of contact is appropriate between them and the rest of the galaxy. Though not of great experience, she is sent to the pre-industrial planet Carrick V. This world is not, however, what it seems: it is in fact post-industrial, having rejected the technology used to enslave the now dominant Orthean race by those known as the Golden Witchbreed.

There is a prophecy that the Witchbreed will return, and this, with the golden colour of (white) human skin tanned by the strong sun of Carrick V, leads the more superstitious Ortheans to believe that the humans landing on the planet are not from space but a plot by the Witchbreed. Naturally, this makes Christie's job far harder, as does the Orthean addiction to deceptive political manoeuvring.

While there is nothing particularly original about Golden Witchbreed, being a variation on the first contact theme, the strength of Gentle's writing commands attention. The feeling that we are experiencing a truly alien culture is particularly strong, and this is one of the most difficult things to do in writing science fiction.

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