Big Yellow Spaceship
By Cheryl Morgan
Here we are at book four. Karen Traviss is still holding out on the promised invasion of Earth, but Matriarch is by no means marking time. As she promised in an interview with me earlier this year, Traviss has a lot to write about. Most of it involves turning readersí expectations upside down. If you thought you knew who were the good guys in the wessíhar series, think again. Traviss doesnít do good guys, she does real people.
Those of you who have not yet read the earlier books in the series (and why not?) please look away now. You canít easily review a book in the middle of a series without spoilers.
On Bezeríej, Lindsay Neville and Mohan Rayat have been sentenced to a lifetime of community service as punishment for their devastation of the planet and almost total genocide of the squid-like bezeri. Of course the only way they could serve the surviving bezeri would be if they could live underwater. A small dose of cínaatat soon fixed that. The clever parasite ensured they would adapt to breathe water rather than drown. It will fight any other threats to their wellbeing as well, so a "life" sentence means forever.
(It also allows Traviss to have lots of scenes featuring talking squid.)
Right now, however, Neville and Rayat are busy helping their jailers rescue the remains of bezeri culture. The bookís cover shows Lindsay swimming through a bezeri city. What? You didnít know they had any cities? That was long ago, before the coming of the isenj, when there were millions of bezeri rather than the sorry thousands that Neville and Rayat killed. Thereís a lot we didnít know about the bezeri, and our two mass murderers are ideally placed to find it all out ó much of it rather too late.
How did that song go again?
"Donít it always seem to go
That you donít know what youíve got Ďtil itís gone"
Meanwhile on Umeh, the Eqbas Vorhi are embarking on their environmental restoration project. The Trantor-like artificial skin of the planet has been pierced for the first time in centuries. Eddie Michallat is able to be present at the inaugural tree-planting ceremony.
The isenj were fascinated by [the soil], and some had scraped it with their footpads or lowered themselves to reach down and crumble it between their hands. Food plants grew in nutrient-laden water; the thousand different fungi that isenj cultivated grew in vats and on barklike medium. Earth was a novelty and they seemed to relish getting their hands dirty.
The hole in the planetís surface is, of course, a bomb crater. Most of the isenj object violently to having their environment forcibly restored by a bunch of do-gooding aliens. They are happy to put aside any local differences and unite against the invaders, no matter how out-gunned they might be. The Eqbas response is to find those few isenj who support the restoration project and enlist their help. Eddie is not impressed.
"Itís interesting to see that you get in over your heads sometimes," he said, and began walking away. "You might want to read some Earth history about what happens when you start a war between two factions and then leave them to slug it out."
"There are many deaths," said Esganikan. "I know."
"And thatís part of your population reduction policy?"
Unlike Earth governments, however, the Eqbas donít believe in exit strategies. After all, their purpose is not to effect regime change on Umeh, but to effect environmental change. If the isenj insist on opposing that strategy, well then theyíll just have to be exterminated. Because there is no part of Umeh that isnít inhabited, fighting a war without massive collateral damage is impossible. It makes the job of pest extermination easier.
As someone might have sungÖ
"Late last night I heard the bombs go bang
And a big yellow spaceship blew away my old man"
All of this, however, is simply a rehearsal for the invasion of Earth. It is, of course, decades away yet. The realities of inter-stellar travel cannot be denied, even by the Eqbas. That doesnít mean that they are not coming. It just means that it gives the people of Earth plenty of time to engage in denial. Hereís Eddie again, taking to one of his colleagues at BBChan:
"Jan, they erase cities. You have no idea. I showed you the pictures. What part of blown off the map does the government not understand?"
"Probably the bit that says it wonít happen on their watch."
To paraphrase slightly:
"Donít it always seem to go
That you wonít know what youíve got Ďtil itís gone"
And thereís more. Letís not forget that Shan, Aras and Ade have to make their inter-species, polygamous marriage work. That isnít easy with a bunch of people who keep making moral judgments on each otherís behalf. There are a whole bunch of surprises in store for Shan, most of them unpleasant.
You might think that one good thing would be that little Vijissi, the young ussissi aide who got spaced along with Shad, managed to survive. But then youíll work out how he did and know why it isnít. Iíve always had a feeling that the ussissi would turn out to have some particularly nasty habits. I was right.
If you remember my review of The World Before you may remember me describing it as "a little flat." It didnít quite have the same punch as City of Pearl and Crossing the Line. Matriarch, on the other hand, could happily go fifteen rounds with Mike Tyson. Whenís the next book due?
With apologies to Joni Mitchell.