Monday, December 12, 2011

Killashandra by Anne McCaffrey

Killashandra is the sequel to crystal Singer, and I had eagerly awaited its appearance back in 1985, but it turned out to have a few flaws.

First, at the end of Crystal Singer, Killashandra has just returned to Ballybran from her assignment in the Trundimoux system, and we experience a huge time lag at the beginning of this book. Killa's claim has been destroyed by the Passover storms, and she's scrambling to replace it. Perhaps McCaffrey published a short story detailing this disaster in one of the pulp mags, but it's disturbing to take up a story when events have occurred "off camera". Also, Keborgen had the claim for years before his death, and Killa's re-discovery of the black crystal site. Why did these particular storms destroy the claim, all of a sudden, aside from being a good plot device to make sure that Killashandra was broke when she really needed to get off planet.

Second, Killa gets an assignment to install white crystal which she has just finished cutting, but it requires her to be off Ballybran for up to a year. Lanzecki's assistant, Trag, convinces her she must take the job, for a reason which was not readily apparent to her earlier. Some of this situation is set up well in Crystal Singer, where we learn that Singers lose their memories over time, as a result of singing crystal. Antona, the head of the medical department on Ballybran, is constantly nagging Killa to dictate any memories she wants to hang on to into her personal recording.

In the first book, Killa and Lanzecki become lovers. Trag lets Killashandra know that Lanzecki has to get out in the ranges and sing crystal soon, or suffer withdrawal, and he's been delaying because he has fallen for her, so if she gets off planet, he'll have no excuse not to go into the ranges. So Killa once again plays the tragic heroine and departs the planet in a hurry, without even saying goodbye to Lanzecki.

Why couldn't she have dictated all of her memories of her love affair into her personal file, and made sure that Lanzecki did the same thing, then leave the planet in an orderly fashion, secure in the knowledge that her lover would remember her. Almost as dumb a stunt as what Romeo and Juliet pulled, back in the literary day.

Third, I'm not sure I understand why and how she decides she should travel to Optheria incognito. She decides to pretend to be merely a student on her way to study there, rather than the Heptite Guild representative, with all its attendant privileges and comforts. The only thing that makes sense here is that it sets up a plot device where a secret agent of the FSP on board doesn't know who she really is at first. It seems improbable to me that when her tickets were booked by the Heptite Guild in the first place, they would fail to mention she's a Guild member, and the passenger manifests for the various ships would certainly mention that little detail. At least the steward and captain would know who she was, even if she requested a low profile. Niggling little bits.

Once on Optheria, she encounters a very parochial culture, which doesn't allow its citizens to leave the planet, and which uses a form of subliminal conditioning so that most of them never even think about doing so. The Optherian organ which she has come to repair is used at an annual concert, which all citizens attend, to influence their emotions, in violation of Federated Sentient Planets regulations. Unfortunately, FSP agents who have been sent here are also not allowed to leave with any evidence of the manipulation.

I sense a bit of a theme here with McCaffrey in these first two novels - Killa seems to encounter very insular and nationalist cultures in her two excursions away from Ballybran. I wonder if McCaffrey, who lived in Ireland, encountered a lot of this narrow thinking in various villages around her homeland, and was making some subtle political comments about them in her writing.

In this adventure, Killa is assaulted, kidnapped and left on a desert island, makes her escape and joins up with her kidnapper - whom she is once more able to deceive concerning her identity (due to her hair bleaching out and complexion tanning on her little island) - seems unlikely, but... and ends up falling in love with him. At least, as much as Killashandra is ever in love with anyone except herself.

These novels are billed on wikipedia as Young Adult, but it seems that for the 80s, there's certainly far more casual sex included than would have been approved for publishing for the YA market. Nothing graphic, just footloose and fancy free. I found it entertaining, though the plot has a lot of holes.

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