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Sunday, November 18, 2012

cover of 'The Moon and the Face'

Kyreol and Terje grew up as children together in the Riverworld, but left it many years ago and now live in the Dome City, where Kyreol has trained as a pilot and to travel to other planets and study other peoples. Terje still visits the Riverworld to observe the hunters and their rituals while staying unobserved himself. Terje is beginning another visit to the Riverworld just as Kyreol is about to leave for her first off-world trip, to the planet Xtal. Kyreol's mother, Nara, has some presentiment or dream of danger but doesn't know what exactly will happen or what to do about it; and both trips end up being quite different than anyone expected.

Terje was supposed to be taking his first solo trip to the Riverworld, but due to Nara's concerns he is accompanied by Regny. They are puzzled to see a torch on the river their first night (unusual behavior for the Riverworld hunters and not part of any ritual that Terje or Regny know), and when they draw closer they learn that the Healer is dying, and has yet to name a successor.

Meanwhile, Kyreol is on board a ship en route to Xtal but something goes wrong and the ship crash lands on one of the moons of the water planet Niade. Kyreol miraculously survives the crash; everyone else is dead, except the leader of the expedition who is missing. She sets off to find him, and discovers an empty, colorless city in the sand-swept desert. In her exploring, she meets another solitary alien who appears to be as afraid of her as she is of it; yet somehow they manage some rudimentary communication and explore together until they find an old shuttle dock, which the alien is able to figure out enough to set off a beacon.

Terje is surprised to find himself summoned by the Healer, and gradually discovers that the Healer Icrane, Kyreol's father and Nara's husband, has dreamed of the Dome city and "boats among the stars." He is even aware of those like Regny, who come unobtrusively to watch and study the culture of the Riverwold being careful not to disrupt it or ruin it by introducing technology into it. But then the Healer has a dream of Terje with the great River in one hand and the Moon-Flash in the other, and knows that Terje is to be his successor as Healer (and there is some sense that Terje may be able to unite the world of the River and the Dome). Terje doesn't know how he can possibly do this when he hasn't been trained in the rituals, and he doesn't want to leave the Dome city if it means leaving Kyreol, and yet when the Healer dies he feels compelled to honor Icrane and bury him properly, and slowly discovers that, as Icrane said before he died, "everything is simple"-- and he seems to know what to do.

This brief story has the same lyrical beauty and thoughtfulness that I love in McKillip's writing. Nara and the others have been studying the Riverworld and doing their best to protect it from the technological world they live in, because they think the culture and its rituals are beautiful and precious, but also because they have some sense that the technology and the life of the Dome would destroy or weaken the Healer's dreams. Kyreol is afraid of leaving her home planet because she is afraid of losing herself, or maybe of losing the connection to the Riverworld she left so many years ago, but when she is lost and by herself she dreams of her father Icrane and of Terje and has some sense of what is happening. The Healer has a sense that the river and its rituals are larger and can encompass the wider world, the Dome and the moon and the planets, and there is a moment when it seems that the darkness between planets is another aspect of the river. There are wonderful details in the differences between cultures, too; the alien that Kyreol meets seems to be birdlike in some ways, round and fluffy and a beak, but speaks in a huge range of sounds and clicks, and seems to express emotion by the colors of its three eyes. Kyreol wonders at the lack of color anywhere in the city, but when they find the shuttle she finds a complicated written language or notation that is made up of lines in different colors. Even the cave-dwelling, prescient Xtal that Kyreol was supposed to meet (but never gets to) sound fascinating.

This is apparently a sequel to Moon-Flash, but I haven't read that book yet because it's another older McKillip work that is hard to find. I read this as an ebook borrowed from (some OCR errors throughout, but very few places where I couldn't figure out what the word should be).

Title:The Moon and the Face
Author:Patricia McKillip
Date published:1986
Genre:Science Fiction
Number of pages:83
Notes:read an ebook


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