Requiem by Ken Scholes
Requiem by Ken Scholes (Tor, 2013) The Psalms of Isaak following Lamentation, Canticle and Antiphon in a five volume sequence to unravel the mystery of what happened in the Named Lands to produce this strange mixture of science fiction and fantasy. On the one hand, we’ve got high-technology robotics and various means of underground, underwater and upper atmosphere transportation (i.e. to the Moon). Yet many of the phenomena we see are ascribed to different forms of magic some of it dark, being based on blood. None of this is clearly understood by the current inhabitants with the Androfrancines having the best approach in excavating the truth from the past. The immediate trigger for the current conflict arose from the destruction of the Androfrancine city of Windwir. Watching is Rudolfo, Lord of the Ninefold Forest Houses and soon-to-be Keeper of the Light, the young Nebios, the Hidden Pope Petronus and Lady Jin Li Tam. If there’s a problem with all this it’s that we never get to see the world before Windwir’s destruction. I know every story has to start somewhere but, so far, it’s still not entirely clear why the loss of this one city should have such a profound effect. Seeing the earlier destruction in the Churning Wastes adds further confusion. Obviously, the balance of power was not completely destabilised by whatever happened there. . .
Anyway, so now we’re off with the latest contribution to this unfolding epic. Nebios Whym has survived and, with the help of Petronus and some mechoservitors, is now on the Moon to find Amyle D’Anjite and open the other library. Rudolfo finds himself caught in a political trap set by his father and he’s having to survive by appearing to accommodate his enemies. His wife, Jin Li Tam and their baby Jakob, are crossing the sea to kill the Crimson Empress. Vlad Li Ram has the staff that was supposed to be given to Nebios, so he’s off on a kind of quest, following the lead of the staff itself which seems to know where it wants to go. And Ire Li Tam is acting as Rudolfo’s bodyguard. While the Watcher who’s spent this last fifty years preparing for the invasion by the Y’Zir has lost its memory and has now adopted a young local girl called Marta. Things start to get more interesting for it when it meets up with Charles and Winters.
Now don’t get me wrong. There may be multiple points of view, but it’s easy to follow. An amazing number of things happen in short order. So it’s action-packed with good pace, and it’s, well, exciting, I suppose. But. . . Take the flight to the Moon as an example. Our POV character going through this should be more amazed by events. It’s not like he’s ever been off the ground before yet, for his first experience, he’s left his planet’s atmosphere and is travelling to the Moon. When someone attacks the ship, there are explosions. The robots operating the ship come under pressure but manage to get to ground without complete destruction. The ones who matter escape. But at no time does our POV character draw the robots to one side and ask, “Who shot us down?” It’s all left mysterious. We can’t be told it was B’Ad Millicent who always gets cranky around this time of the month because. . . Well let’s not go into this. Fantasy doesn’t do biology. So she fires off her SAMs (Surface to Air Menopistols). She doesn’t want Neb to get where he’s going because if he does, things she’ll find inconvenient will happen and this will screw her plans for what she wants in Book Five. And then there’s this whole invisibility thing. Just take this powder and, even though it really messes with your biology, no-one will be able to see you. There are several problems with this. With your biology bollixed by the chemicals you’ve ingested, you don’t feel good. You would really like to go to the toilet on a regular basis but, when you’re on a ship, leaving the cabin is a problem. And then there’s the smell. You can’t keep having showers because the en suite hasn’t been reinvented on ships. So you stand in the corner hoping no-one will walk into you by accident even though everyone coming into the cabin will think something has died in that part of the room and want to spray with disinfectant.
I could go on but you should have the message by now. It’s all superficial show and no tell. The author can’t explain as the plot unwinds because that would mean only three or possibly four, not the five, books he’s promised the publisher. The result is a lot of things happening where the reader just has to accept it’s happening and not ask awkward questions starting with who or why or how. In our haste to get wherever we’re going so everyone can be in the right place at the right time for Book Five to have all the main characters ready for the fight, we’re just supposed to sit back and enjoy the ride. The author’s sales pitch is, “Trust me. I know where I’m going and, if you shut down that inconvenient brain of yours, you’ll enjoy it and everything will make sense (well, kinda or sorta) when we get to the end of Book Five. That’s when I’m going to explain all this magic technology thing and give you a history lesson. It will be fun. I promise.” So there you have it. Requiem is science fiction mediated through magic or fantasy interfacing with technology against an interactive dreamscape which programs people and robots with the code needed to get them to the end of Book Five. Enjoy or not as you taste dictates.
A copy of this book was sent to me for review.