In Robinson’s debut sci-fi novel, a woman’s immersive experience on a hostile, alien planet causes her to question what’s so human about humans.
Jane Freeman, a secret agent posing as travel agent, embarks on an interplanetary adventure when she goes undercover to gather intelligence on Earth’s great enemy, the Dakh Hhargash. For cover, she marries one of the foes—Cmdr. Krelg of Tranic. The union allows Jane access to Krelg’s homeland, but life on the planet Trenth with the brutish humanoid isn’t easy. Sharing much with the Tarzan story, Krelg and his beautiful and civilized Jane must learn how to communicate with, and perhaps even love, one another. Told in prose that is surprisingly fluid given the clunkiness and prevalence of the Dakh Hhargash language, Jane’s journey incorporates life lessons on both sides of the species divide as well as a good deal of violence. Though the battles in space sometimes lag and come across as uninspired, the skirmishes on land move more briskly, especially those carried out with words. On more than one occasion, Jane manages to convince her new husband and family that she isn’t a spy simply by rationalizing with them. Since she must learn the cultural nuances of the Dakh Hhargash to ensure her own survival as well as Earth’s, Jane’s information-gathering mission requires her to draw as much on the playbook of the anthropologist as the spy. The uncompromising species is known for its warriors, who are fearless and callous perhaps because, as children, they have been trained to associate physical contact with battle. As the fearsome Krelg reveals to Jane during a rare and tender moment of epiphany, his decision to become a warrior meant that his mother would no longer touch him: “Every time I tried to sit on her lap, she would push me away with her foot. That hurt…I wanted my mommy so much.”
A unique, action-filled examination of a barbaric alien culture that may not be so different from our own.