A Long, Slow Dance
By Cheryl Morgan
When I read Steve Cash’s debut novel, The Meq, I concluded that it was an interesting idea but that there were problems with the execution. The second volume in the series, Time Dancers, is now due out, and I’m sad to say that things have not got any better.
Let’s begin by recapping the scenario. The Meq are a race of exceptionally long-lived beings. They are able to delay the onset of puberty until such time as they decide to have children, at which point their age normally again. Some of them have spent thousands of years being twelve years old. This presents, or at least should present, significant challenges.
From Cash’s point of view this allows him to play a little with history. It is clear that one of the things he is getting out of the books is the ability of have his child-like heroes play a small part in major events without anyone questioning why they are not known to history. Who notices kids, right? Therefore the new book, which takes us from WWI to WWII sees cameo appearances by characters such as Babe Ruth, Charles Lindbergh and Josephine Baker.
But from the reader’s point of view there is an expectation that the issues raised by Meq life will be addressed in the books. It is one thing for an immortal character to go unnoticed for decades as a thirty-something adult. It is quite another for ordinary humans not to notice that certain kids stay twelve years old for decades. Cash makes cursory mention of the problem every so often, but it never seems to cause any real trouble for his characters.
Then there is this question of sex. One reason the Meq are happy to put off puberty is that they each have a "one true love" whom they will one day meet, but who may not be born for hundreds of years. That’s fine until they have met. But Cash’s viewpoint character, Zianno, has now met his beloved, Opari. She’s a few thousand years old. That’s a long time to wait for a perfect boyfriend, yet there seems to be no urgency to their relationship.
Indeed, one of my problems with the series is that nothing seems to have much urgency. The books are very flat. The characters are largely indistinguishable and the pace of the writing never seems to alter along with the pace of events. Obviously this is a matter of writing technique, and Cash may well improve with time, but I found Time Dancers a real struggle to get through.
Then there is the issue I highlighted in my review of The Meq. For the most part the characters do no seem to act very much. Rather they respond to the actions of others as the author requires in order to move them around the plot. In particular the bad guy, the renegade Meq known as the Fleur-du-Mal, has an amazing ability to completely out-fox our heroes at every turn. Like some teenage Moriarty he always turns up at the worst possible moment and always escapes completely unscathed.
If all of that wasn’t enough to put me in a bad mood, the book ends on an even worse cliff-hanger than part one of Scott Westerfeld’s artificially publisher-truncated Risen Empire. I suppose that is intended to encourage us to read the next book. I’m not sure that it worked.