Tor Books / 272 pages / (May 2002)
Dipping into a new Phyllis Gotlieb novel is like the first dive into a dark, icy lake; it takes some getting used to, and every now and then you might feel in over your head, but if you relax, you can let the current wash through and absorb you. Mindworlds is Gottlieb’s latest plunge into that territory you may not know already, but you could very well end up wanting to remain. If you missed the first two volumes in this series: Flesh and Gold and Violent Stars you might experience more of those moments of deep water, it is far too pleasurable to climb out before the end.
In Gotlieb’s galaxy, the planets themselves matter less than the worlds existing within the telepathic connections of many of the races. The tiny, shapeless Lyhrt in their robot shells walk among the aliens, but bond tightly to one another. Because of the overwhelming telepathic power of the Lyhrt, other races must wear helmets to shield them from unwelcome thoughts and mental probing. The saurian Khagodis, intellectual and deliberate; the hated war-like Ix; powerful Rrengha and her genetically tampered cat-people, even the very human humans, fight to remain in their own, separate worlds, even if only within their own minds.
Something unthinkable has come to upset the delicate balance of this amalgam of races and cultures. The enigmatic, but peaceful Lyrht appear ready to attack the Khagodi world. This revelation has the more hawkish Khagodis stoking the flames of hatred and working the people into a frenzy of war. The few voices of reason are shouted down or simply eliminated by the opposing sides as the carnage draws ever closer.
Returning from the previous novels are the characters that made the stories so impossible to resist. Ned Gattes, like an indestructible pair of blue jeans, gets more battered and irreplaceable with each adventure his incurable sense of honour drags him into. Hasso wants nothing more than to live a life of peace and find companionship on his native Khagodis, but that appears to be forever denied him. Spartakos, Ned’s metal-man partner, can no more turn away from the pursuit of justice than he can desert his following of O’e.
True, reading Mindworlds is going to be a much richer experience for having read the two previous novels, but certainly it can stand alone as a novel of great depth and power. Gotlieb’s reputation as the pre-eminent Canadian author of science fiction is well deserved. Not only was she out there first, she was and still is among the best. Gotlieb’s novels soar above the rest of the genre. Her prose is everything fine literature demands: complex and enlightening plots, unforgettable characters, vividly etched settings, and a deeper purpose. The entertainment is there in every word, but the message is in the spaces between.
Reading time is precious; there is no better way to spend it than with Phyllis Gotlieb.