There is one type of story that always makes
the hairs stand up on the back of my neck and sends authentic shivers down my spine. An
empire has collapsed and now, centuries later, the empire is just half-forgotten legend
and lore. But the traces that it has left behind can still have a profound effect on the
lives of the characters in the story. Isaac Asimov used this idea in his Foundation
stories and so did J. R. R. Tolkien in The Lord of the Rings. Now Jane
Lindskold has used the idea in Artemis Awakening, and what a magnificent job
she has done with it.
These days Artemis is a rather bucolic, sparsely inhabited planet. But the
loremasters tell of a time when it was a pleasure planet used by the seegnur.
Adara is a huntress. She and her puma Sand Shadow are out hunting when they see a strange
looking shooting star. Following the traces it has left, they find a crashed spaceship
from which they rescue Griffin Dane. Griffin is a historian and archeologist from what
remains of humanitys star spanning civilization. His studies have revealed long
forgotten references to the old empires pleasure planet and he has come to
investigate. But the loss of his ship and all of his equipment probably means that his
investigation will be over before it has begun. Adara is not so sure she knows
people who have studied the old days, people who she is sure will be able to help Griffin.
Perhaps the few surviving seegnur sites might even have equipment that can get Griffin off
the planet again and get him back home to his family! Griffin is less certain about this.
His studies have told him that during the last battle that destroyed the empires
outposts on Artemis, the combatants, in a fit of childish pique, scattered nanobots that
destroyed the techological infrastructure of the planet. If they couldnt have the
planet, neither could anyone else! Those nanobots are probably still active. After all,
the current society on Artemis is not itself a technological one.
And so the scene is set for a magificent picaresque novel. Its a
quest, its a story of the exploration of the unknown, its a tale that pursues
half-understood clues to mysterious ends.
Such a story only works well if the characters involved in it come alive
in the readers mind, and that will only happen if the back story is thoroughly
worked out in the authors mind. Without that unifying solidity, the story structure
can quickly turn into essentially arbitrary incidents that never quite gell into a
coherent whole. It is clear that Jane Lindskold fully understands this, and that she has
worked very hard indeed to give her characters and settings the depth that they require.
As a direct result of this careful preparation, everything about Artemis feels
extraordinarily real. The world is properly lived in, and the people who live there fit
perfectly into their world.
Adara is a fascinating character, and her puma Sand Shadow is just as
interesting. They have a crude telepathic bond with each other. Also both are adapted
genetic modifications have given Adara the ability to see in the dark and hands
that are almost paws. Sand Shadow has paws that are almost hands and Griffin wins her
affection by teaching her some new knots to tie! He also introduces a game of marbles to
which Sand Shadow quickly becomes addicted. And yet despite these genetic alterations,
Adara remains completely a human being and Sand Shadow remains completely a cat. Humanity
and felinity are defined less by the shape of the body than they are by the attitudes of
the mind that lives within that body.
The genetic modifications that define Adara and Sand Shadow are not common
on Artemis. Presumably they were initiated by the seegnur for their own mysterious reasons
the seegnur seem to have regarded the inhabitants of Artemis as a kind of servant
class, clay to be moulded for specific roles on the pleasure planet. Griffin meets more
adapted people on his quest, some of them very strange indeed. It starts to become
apparant that this strangeness may not be quite as arbitrary as at first it appeared to
be. There is something happening behind the scenes, something that will profoundly affect
the outcome of the tale.
The story progresses to a nicely satisfying end, but threads remain to be
ravelled up and Im very eager to see what happens in the next novel. Ive
fallen a little bit in love with Adara (and Ive fallen a lot in love with Sand
Shadow). By the end of the book, Griffin has made much headway in his quest, but there is
still a long way to go. I dearly want to know how (and if) he will succeed.
Artemis Awakening grabbed hold of me and simply
wouldnt let me go. I quickly found myself resenting having to put the book down in
order to do mundane things like cook a meal and go to bed. I was living on Artemis and
travelling with Adara, Sand Shadow and Griffin. I hated to leave them. Who knows what
might have happened to them while I wasnt there...