In this deep-space, multidimensional tale, the battle of the sexes devolves into actual warfare in a dystopian world.
Jeffords’ debut novel fashions an intricately detailed world full of action, intrigue, and war between patriarchal and matriarchal planets. The book opens with warriors mysteriously zapped out of battles on Earth to the planet Arna—a world located in another time and dimension, and ruled by women. Cpl. Ord (nicknamed “Snake”) is pulled from Vietnam to a nightmare arena resembling the Roman Coliseum on steroids. He sees combatants from various Earthly epochs (“He recognized Civil war vets, WWI soldiers, veterans of the Boer War, Romans, black, red, white, and yellow men. Japanese Samurai, Cossacks, and WWII vets. And ancient warriors he couldn’t begin to identify by their uniforms. Fighting men from his own past, as bewildered as he was staggering in those lines”). Men all around him are killed for merely asking questions or delivering wisecracks. Eventually, he undergoes a trial by ordeal that determines his role in this strange society as a breeder and Kril warrior. The ritual that Snake (KrutChan in his new life) survives is a means of selecting mates and manning the armies of this matriarchy. From the start, Snake is different. He survives four strikes of the pain-inducing trial device and remains stubbornly independent and contrary, while making some powerful enemies. This tale is much more than a cleverly constructed sci-fi universe filled with Machiavellian plots and spectacular battle scenes integrating the use of ancient, modern, and future weaponry. It is a wry commentary on the relationship between men and women, and an intergalactic condemnation of war as seen through the eyes of past, present, future, and alien grunts. It is also quite literary, and filled with stirring imagery: “Battle. He had to tighten his quivering stomach and grit his teeth. Every word he spoke came from the hollow of a drum; squeaking like an adolescent. He wanted to spit, but could not.” The only problem is the wealth of Arna terminology, often not defined until pages after it is introduced. In addition, a rather pointless inversion of words (such as “not do” for “do not”) to represent Arna language becomes particularly confusing at the start of sentences.
An inventive and enjoyable sci-fi epic that offers a cosmic indictment of war.