Thursday, September 6, 2012
Review - The 5 Moons of Tiiana: The Chronicles of Rez Cantor by Paul T. Harry
Short review: The Melelan Empire has fallen and Rez Cantor must rescue the beautiful imperial princess Leanna from the Relcor, but finds himself sidetracked into adventures among the five moons of the gas giant Tiiana.
To flee the Relcor
Cantor goes to distant moons
And saves everyone
Disclosure: I received this book as a Review Copy. Some people think this may bias a reviewer so I am making sure to put this information up front. I don't think it biases my reviews, but I'll let others be the judge of that.
Full review: What is a pulp science fiction fan to do when they have traveled alongside John Carter on Barsoom, accompanied Carson Napier to Amtor, fought the invaders from the Moon, and explored Pellucidar? If that fan is Paul T. Harry, they write the adventures of Rez Cantor, Captain in the Imperial Forces of Melela as he swashbuckles his way across the moons of the distant gas giant of Tiiana. Anyone looking for deep meaning or insightful political commentary is likely to be disappointed by this book, but if you are looking for a fun romp across exotic locales inhabited by aliens both friendly and malign, then The 5 Moons of Tiiana will satisfy your craving for pulpy adventure.
As the story opens, the Melelan Empire is on the brink of surrender, having been defeated by the invading Relcor. The beginning of the story is the weakest element, because the Relcor are poorly developed as villains. I have not read any other books by Harry, so it is possible that the losing battle the Melelans fight against these adversaries was detailed in one of them, but insofar as this book is concerned, they are merely a wooden villain thrown into the beginning to be mostly faceless and colorless agents of evil. It is clear that Rex loathes them, and the reader is supposed to as well, but the groundwork for creating that emotion in the reader simply isn't laid in the book. Not only that, given the obvious inequities within the Melelan Empire that are exposed in the short sojourn Rez spends there before heading out to the stars, there doesn't seem to be any reason to like that government either.
Fortunately, this section of the book is fairly brief, and once Rez is able to rescue the Imperial Princess Leanna, acquire a starship, and a crew to man her, events move to Tiiana's moons and the story begins to pick up. Due to an unexplained spatial anomaly, Rez finds himself alone and unarmed on a strange world that seems to be nothing but a sand bar and the sea, with a strange purple cloud that eats metal filling the sky. After wandering about for a bit on the sandy island, Rez hops on board a passing sea creature and is eventually taken captive by the Aquella, a race that lives under the sea on the moon Urlena. The Aquella modify Cantor so that he can breathe water and then put him to work as a slave in their undersea mines. Despite the complete lack of explanation as to how Rez went from a starship flying at full speed to sitting safely on a beach on an unknown moon, the story starts to make more sense here. The metal-eating sky cloud is clearly presented as an ominous threat, and Cantor's enslavement in the Aquellan mines gives the reader a clear understanding of why he despises them, and can join in his dislike.
Cantor engineers a daring escape from captivity, but in the proud tradition of pulpy heroes everywhere he doesn't have any kind of plan for what to do after he escapes, or any idea where to go. He manages to wash up on shore and find an abandoned city populated by feral dog-like animals. Before too long the Aquella show up, and just when he is about to be captured, Rez finds that he has been transported to another moon. This sort of serendipity is a staple of pulp fiction, but it marks the second time in the book that Cantor has escaped trouble by mysteriously teleporting to a different planet. Pulp adventure by its very nature involves improbable escapes and lucky breaks that save the hero, but a pulp writer must walk a fine line. One the one hand, the protagonist must have a lucky streak sufficient to allow him to escape the terrible predicaments that the genre demands he be placed in, but on the other hand if the hero escapes by fortuitous chance too often then he stops seeming like a hero and more like a spectator who happens to be sitting on center stage. And this is why writing pulp adventure is more difficult than many would-be authors realize.
Fortunately, Harry is able to avoid this pitfall, and while Cantor has his share of close calls, they are varied enough and he is active enough in them that the reader never feels like he is the beneficiary of too much luck to be believable. After his escape from the Aquella and his mysterious transport, Rez awakens to find himself on the moon of Boutal under the care of Ashka, a mystical wise woman, who is assisted by her adopted son the immense alien Ootal. In short order it becomes clear that Ootal will become the Tars Tarkus to Rez Cantor's John Carter, and the pair become friends and fighting buddies. And because this is a pulp adventure, there has to be a fiendish enemy to fight, so the Brata, a race of flying villains is introduced. In the way of all mystic guides, Ashka gives Rez some cryptic instructions and a new name, dyes his skin black, and then dies. Rez, now named Rookla, takes Oolat and they go to find the third race inhabiting Boutal, the black-skinned Moutal, winding up at the city of Casita.
Once there, Rez discovers two things: first, the people of Casita are threatened by the Brata, and second, during the couple of years that Rez has spent wandering the moons of Tiiana, Princess Leanna has had her skin dyed black, married King Hazadek of Casita, and had a son. Upon learning this, Rez immediately jumps feet first into Casitan service and figured out how to save the city: by introducing gunpowder. In a very pulpy manner Rez manages to introduce gunpowder technology to the Casitans ridiculously quickly, providing them with hundreds of rockets and some working cannons within a couple of days, and ocean-going cannon armed warships within a couple months. This is, well, implausible is probably too weak a word, perhaps extraordinarily implausible would be apropos. But this is a pulp adventure, so the implausible is somewhat expected. This technology allows the Casitans to fend off the invading Brata, but in a twist that is somewhat unusual for pulp fiction, has the unintended consequence of upsetting the political balance of power among the Moutalan city-states, giving Casita an overwhelming edge. And it turns out that Rez, in his headlong rush to defend his beloved princess, has backed the wrong horse: King Hazadek, we are told, is a cruel and tyrannical ruler. I say "we are told" because this is basically how this information is presented. As with the Relcor, we are told that Hazadek is villainous without actually seeing him engage in much, if any villainy. This practice of establishing a villain or an enemy simply by saying they are evil and must be defeated without giving the assertion any substance by means of characterization in the story is a pattern in the book, and one of its few real weaknesses.
Rez evades Hazadek's plot to bump him off using his Aquellan provided ability to breathe underwater, he heads for a mysterious site of numerous disappearances. Along the way he reunites with Oolat and Leanna (now separated from the evil tyrant Hazadek) and strikes up a romantic relationship with the teenage divorcee. Leanna gets pregnant, then gets captured by the insect-like Zecla, and Cantor heads off to rescue her, and before too long is on yet another moon, this time to the high-tech world of Aura, populated entirely by robots and Cantor's fellow Melelan Philip Golan. This proves to be a short term stay as Rez quickly leaves in pursuit of Leanna's captors, moving on to the moon Zin, the home world the Zecla housed in a robot body provided by Golan. After destroying Zeclan civilization while rescuing his pregnant girlfriend, Rez heads off to Vashia where he is informed that Ashka is not actually dead, and is in fact one of the incorporeal Visi, who are displeased that he destroyed the Zeclans.
From here the story swirls around Rez's attempts to gather a coalition of the various other races to oppose a refugee band of Zecla backed up by a horde of Brata. This involves a series of hops back and forth between moons to get assistance from the Auran robots, the water-dwelling Aquellans, the massive Solula, and the dark Motula as Cantor gets them together into a grand coalition to fight off the insect-like menace. oddly, despite bringing the fighting strength of three races and a planet of robots to face off against the population of two other races, the numbers involved in battle are quite small. Cantor also manages to secure some high-tech weaponry, which oddly seems to be identical in nature to the weaponry he used in Melela despite being manufactured centuries before by races of aliens on the opposite end of the galaxy. By the end of the story, the Motula and Solula, who were wielding swords and spears when we first met them, field armies equipped with blasters and microwave rifles fighting under aircraft dropping vacuum bombs on their enemies.
After much diplomatic maneuvering, a couple of battles, and a lot of adventure, the Zecla are defeated and Rez and Leanna are able to head off to a more or less happy ending. The story has some oddities: Leanna's half-Motulan child and abortive pregnancy both simply drop out of the story without any real indication of why they were there to begin with. The Zecla, like the Relcor, are kind of a faceless villain, leaving the reader without an enemy to focus upon: there is a reason that Flash Gordon was opposed by Ming the Merciless, and not by an army of undifferentiated foes. The Visi, who are clearly intended to be wise and mysterious, instead seem to be a little callous as it seems like they could have stopped the Zecla and Brata without the need for a huge war involving thousands of deaths. But most of these concerns are simply minor quibbles that don't substantially detract from the heroic derring-do in the story. Niggling criticisms aside, The 5 Moons of Tiiana is a fun romp through a pulpy adventure with a swashbuckling hero to root for, a beautiful princess who needs to be rescued, exotic locales to visit, and terrible enemies to be defeated. So if you enjoyed exploring Barsoom with John Carter and Mongo with Flash Gordon, you should pick up this book and join Cantor as he travels to Tiiana.
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