Tuesday, May 15, 2018

The Madness Season

THE MADNESS SEASON (1990), an epic novel by C. S. Friedman, features a unique blend of alien invasion with vampires—one vampire, anyway. Earth has been conquered by an interstellar gestalt civilization called the Tyr, who have absorbed a variety of subject races. The overlords capture and isolate all geniuses and other individualists to forestall any rebellion among the subdued population. Faster-than-light technology is impossible for the people of Earth, so they can travel outside this solar system only through the intervention of the Tyr—or so the Tyr claim. The protagonist, Daetrin, who appropriately teaches evening college classes in art, lives as obscurely as possible. As he has throughout his long life, he keeps a low profile, making himself appear blandly average. His last conspicuous action was joining the futile human rebellion against the alien Conquest three centuries earlier, when he fell in battle and passed for dead. Nevertheless, the Tyr notice he's somehow abnormal and transport him off the planet, partly to keep him from unsettling the peaceful compliance of their human subjects and partly to study him. Most important, they consider him dangerous because his unnatural longevity means he remembers the time before the Conquest.

Daetrin's race, of whom no others survive as far as he's aware, have lifespans measured in centuries or millennia. Dark-adapted, they aren't killed outright by sunlight, but exposure quickly becomes excruciatingly painful. The body defends itself by developing a high fever. They feed on blood, but since the twentieth century Daetrin has survived on an artificial nutrient drink he has invented. He believes himself to be human, afflicted with a "biochemical problem" he handles by ingesting his potion. He rejects certain vague memories to the contrary as delusions. Surely his recollections of flying or changing into animals can't be real, can they? As a captive of the Tyr, he can't get immediate access to a laboratory to manufacture his artificial nourishment. He has to resort to sneaking out of his cell and feeding on caged animals. Drinking fresh blood awakens more of those memories in greater vividness, until he can't deny their reality.

Over the course of the novel, he meets several types of aliens. At one point he comes upon a group of human colonists who reject his offer of help in their resistance to the Tyr because they don't accept him as human. He develops a relationship with Kiri, a female-identified Marra, a member of a species whose essential being consists of pure energy. They wear bodies like clothes, and with each new corporeal form, an individual Marra builds a new identity. At present, Kiri lives the identity of a healer. In his association with her, Daetrin fully embraces his nature as a blood-drinking shapeshifter. With her help, he mounts his own rebellion against the Tyr. Through their bond, she helps him expand and enhance his shapeshifting power. They also discover that, by taking human form, she can nourish him with human blood. By the end of the book, he becomes enlightened as to his true nature and the purpose for the evolution of his species.

The story is narrated mainly in Daetrin's first-person voice, interspersed with third-person sections from other viewpoints, including Kiri's. Friedman does an impressive job of portraying the inner lives of aliens with very different mindsets and world-views from human, such as the Marra and the component species of the Tyr. The major focus, however, naturally centers on Daetrin's journey of self-discovery.

Margaret L. Carter

Explore love among the monsters at Carter's Crypt.


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