Red Sky, Blue Moon
by Bruce Golden
Reviewed by Darlene Santori
The idea of ancient aliens visiting Earth is a well-worn one in science fiction, but it's only the springboard for an innovative twist in Bruce Golden's newest novel, Red Sky, Blue Moon, which is not about ancient aliens or Earth. Instead it's about the various humans culled from Earth long ago by an alien intelligence and transplanted to another world. It's about how their cultures/societies developed along both different and similar paths than their forebearers on Earth. This is a milieu novel heavy on characterization.
If you have any interest the Viking culture of the 11th century, or the Native American Sioux culture of centuries later, you'll want to make it a point to find a copy of this book. More than a millennium after they were abducted from Earth, the Vikings have evolved into a cruel and fiercely competitive corporate culture of racial purists, retaining some of their traditions, but progressing to a more industrial society. Within that society are the wealthy barons of industry called the Aesir. The lower class, the "less pure" workers, are the Vanir. The Vanir's struggle for a better life is one facet of this story, as is the clash between various houses of the Aesir to control the "corporatocracy."
Meanwhile, the tribal "savages," who've been on this alien planet for only a handful of centuries, have changed little. They've been transported to another continent, which is only now beginning to be colonized by the Aesir. The racial purists of the corporatocracy covet the potential wealth of the lands populated by the "horse men," whom they regard as no better than animals. A discovery heightens their interest in these new lands when it is determined an anti-aging element and a cure-all for a disease that affects great numbers of their population that might be found there.
Golden not only provides a richly detailed look at these opposing civilizations, he juxtaposes their differences by revealing their similarities. But his book isn't just about splendid world-building. Like Golden's other books, Red Sky, Blue Moon is, at its heart, a character story. And there are a lot of them, though the focus lands squarely on two particular protagonists--one from each society.
Tordan is a skaldor (known as warrior/poets) employed by one of the wealthiest Aesir houses. He is Vanir, but was taken from his family as a child to be trained for war. Despite his prowess in battle, he's a bit of a rake and a trouble-maker. His counterpart among the savages has been captured by the Aesir, and wants nothing more than to return to his family--his people. Their evolving relationship is at the heart of this story.
With thematic echoes of Dune, Dances with Wolves, and The Last Samurai, Red Sky, Blue Moon is an epic tale of adventure and arrogance, discovery and desire, courage and greed. If you're familiar with those works of fiction, then you'll understand that, at its heart, this book is about a stranger in a strange land--or more correctly--strangers, as there are separate role reversals.
Golden also uses the technique of excerpts from the journal of one of the aliens who brought the humans here before some chapters, to reveal their story, and what, ultimately happened to them. It seems their great "speciation" experiment backfired.
If there's a shortfall to this book, it's that the plot is not groundbreaking (but then how many are these days?). What sets this book apart are little things, the attention to detail, the rich layers of world building, the realistic characters. Of course, keeping track of who's who could be a problem if you're not a diligent reader--if it takes you months to finish a book. But if this story grabs you at all, you should find yourself whisked through Golden's quick-moving, pithy chapters all the way to the end.
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