I have been a fan of Robert Holdstock for a while, both for the Mythago Wood series and his Merlin/Jason and the Argonauts books, which I still haven’t finished… oops… I’ve had this book on my shelf for a very long time, and as part of my effort to deplete the TBR pile I’ve finally got around to it.
Interestingly, this reminded me of two books. Firstly, the idea of a planet with weird time distortions of course calls to mind Dan Simmons’ Hyperion Cantos; this came first, and I can’t help wondering about influence. Secondly, there’s also a similarity to Kress’ Steal Across the Sky, this time in its attitude toward the alien. Aliens were a means to an end for Kress, allowing her to explore different aspects of humanity or society; VanderZande’s World allows Holdstock to do the same. The people are there because of the time winds that rips ng things from the past and the future and deposits them in the present (and presumably other times as well, but let’s not think too hard about that)… but this oddity is mostly just a vehicle for Holdstock to explore humanity.
Humanity have settled on this world partly to explore, and learn to understand the time winds, and partly to colonise. The first is the focus of the story, although the second is touched on and is one of the most interesting issues. The main narrative focuses on a rifter – a man whose purpose is to investigate the stuff appearing after the time wind has blown through. His world starts to go a bit pear-shaped when a new recruit joins his team. Holdstock is interested in how people deal with stress, and how this impacts on relationships, and gradually reveals more of Leo’s life and issues. Of course, things aren’t even as normal-life complex as they initially appear, and Holdstock makes the issues of the past come through in such a way that makes complete sense with what has already been revealed.
Alongside this narrative, Holdstock gives tantalising hints at the world he imagines. It would be human-compatible, but its organic life creates pollens that are toxic. There are two responses to this issue (well, three, because there are also the people who don’t bother to try and settle there): the colonists who are hoping to eventually evolve to the point of unassisted survival; and the manchanged, colonists who have artificially intervened into themselves in order to live without assistance now. The hostility between them is barely examined, but adds depth to the overall narrative as well as depressing believability.
The one problem I had with this book was about the last 20 pages. They felt rushed and forced, and wrapped up an issue in a way that neither felt integral nor necessary. So that left a slightly sour taste in my mouth, which is unfortunate given I enjoyed the rest of it.